I am still reeling from the past year.

2020 came and went in a blur of traumatic news headlines, deaths, anxiety, and uncertainty. We had to move forward while keeping everything on hold. All of us experienced either the loss of loved ones, cancelled plans and opportunities, isolation, or fear. Some of us may have experienced it all.

But while we all went through a pandemic, it wasn’t really a shared experience.

As an international student from Nepal and as a sophomore on campus for the first time this semester, the difference in the way each of us recount the last year is stark. For those on campus, COVID-19 policies were restricting and isolating, and there was no sense of a normal college experience on campus.

But I’m tired of hearing about how I didn’t miss out on a lot by not being on campus. I missed out on orientation week, meeting people for the first time as a first-year, in-person socially distanced lectures, opportunities to explore the campus, and a whole host of fundamental, albeit restricted, activities. 

While I am grateful for more time with friends and family at home, my first year of college  didn’t feel like anything more than a continuous cycle of 2 a.m. classes, struggling to keep up with academics and clubs and the sinking feeling that I was missing out on one thing or another. I have no distinct memory of what is typically a significant period of everyone’s college experience. Most of us who were remote will never get back the lost first year of college.

There was no studying in the library with friends, getting food in dining halls, finding a seat in lecture halls, or pulling all-nighters. With time zone differences, every night was an all-nighter.

Between uncertainties of not being able to access a hospital bed if I or a family member got sick, standing in long lines to get a vaccine, and the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu not opening, forcing me to risk going to New Delhi at the peak of the pandemic to get a visa, my first year was less about enjoying my classes and more about just getting through the day. 

It was about continuously refreshing the visa appointment page hoping that an appointment pops up, having no physical interaction with anyone other than my family for months, and knowing that vaccines would be hard to come by. It was about the fear that if I did get my visa, not being vaccinated would mean not being on campus. 

When I finally got my visa, there were no big goodbyes to family and friends that I would end up not seeing for a long time. Goodbyes were done over the phone or six feet apart with masks and face shields, hoping that when I landed in the U.S. the COVID-19 test would be negative.

But now that almost all of us are back on campus, it feels like we are expected to forget the last year. 

We are expected to move forward this year as if nothing has happened. We are expected to carry on with our classes, extracurricular activities, internship searches, and everything else like we didn’t just experience a pandemic in the first place.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sure having a hard time moving forward like nothing has happened. I don’t know if I’m ever going to get back the months I spent at home in lockdown, unable to leave for more than an hour to get groceries. I don’t know if I will forget the stories of close family friends being unable to say goodbye to their loved ones in person because of hospital policies. 

There may not be a collective pandemic experience, but at least we can all share the experience of not knowing how to move forward after the last two years.



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