In the Spring 2020 semester, two weeks of online school sounded incomprehensible, and now I have completed over a year of online classes. I had my fair share of positive and negative experiences that came along with online class. But, as I look forward to the prospective in-person classes next year, here are some of the lessons I’ll be taking with me into the future.
The one year mark of the pandemic has come and gone, and I’m not sure exactly when or if things will go back to “normal.” However, I do know that I have adapted somewhat to remote school and work. Even though technology governs much of our lives right now, I have found ways I can still use it for good – especially when it comes to physical activity.
Throughout this past year, I have found that my optimism and overall motivation has decreased significantly, as school seems trivial compared to the profound challenges currently facing the world. My future seems bleak amidst the labor crisis surrounding employment opportunities as well as my inability to connect with others. I first noticed this shift in my mental health and mindset when completing a paper for a policy class. I found myself asking questions like, “Why is this little assignment even important when the world is facing such great challenges and hurting so much?” or “Will this paper even mean anything?” These largely negative existential questions made it difficult to write, but as I worked, I developed tactics to address these questions and the feelings behind them.
I remember reading my professor’s comments on a paper I’d written in one of my first graduate seminars at Carolina. The paper excited me because it was a topic that interested me, and I believed that my excitement would also factor into producing a well-written, deeply riveting original argument. I was wrong. When I read my professor’s comments, which were few, the words that stood out most were on the last page. Scribbled around some other notes that mentioned the promise of my idea, the professor had written, “This is almost unintelligible.” Reading this comment took a heavy toll on me even though I thought I could shake off the unhelpful criticism.
What makes me a unique writer? This is a question I ask myself often. As an identical twin, saying that I have gone through a bit of an identity crisis is an understatement. I am constantly confronted with the reality of my own uniquenesses, or the lack thereof, especially when it comes to writing.
2020 has been… quite a surprise, has it not?
It feels so long ago now, but I remember how my 2020 began. I was in the midst of fellowship writing and making preparations to return to Cuba for my dissertation research. I knew that the process would be challenging, and I knew that there was going to be a great deal of work and sacrifice ahead, but I felt that over my years in graduate school, I was prepared for just about any challenges that would come my way. Then, COVID hit. I, along with most of my generation of scholars, was thrown into total limbo!
Once upon a time, I had to defend the “prospectus” or plan for my dissertation to my committee members. I spent many months researching, drafting, and revising my prospectus. I focused on making my ideas clear. I memorized the main points of my argument. When my prospectus defense began, I shared with excitement everything I had learned and planned to do. And the first question a committee member asked me in response was: “So… what’s your dissertation about?”
When virtual classes were announced, I immediately thought about how this meant four more months without my favorite Chapel Hill study spots. As a senior, I owe a lot of my success to the environments that have fostered my creativity (I’m looking at you Wilson Library steps, Meantime Coffee Shop, and the courtyard outside of Swain Hall). Having relocated to Newport, Rhode Island for the semester, I spend a lot of time curating study spots that help me stay motivated. Anything to help me avoid slipping into the monotony of daily routine.
When I came back from Iraq in July 2010, I was eager to enter college. It wasn’t that I desired to learn all that I could but that I felt behind. Most of my high school classmates were starting their second year of college when the 747 that delivered me from Iraq to America landed in Gulfport, Mississippi. I wanted to get my college education started because part of me felt that, if I didn’t start soon, I would never go.