Being a student during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Madelyn Schaner

Sam, a Junior and Education major at the College of Charleston, tells a unique story about her experience living through the pandemic. She was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and moved to Charleston to pursue her college education. Throughout her life, Sam has been an excellent student and has participated in her community, working as a lifeguard and camp counselor. She takes great pride in helping others and shares deep and meaningful connections with friends and family. External factors in Sam’s life strongly impact how she is living through the COVID-19 pandemic; culture, geography, and age have crafted a new and challenging life experience for her.

Sam’s life as a college student and the cultures surrounding it have most prominently been affected. In our interview, we talked about the College of Charleston’s Back on the Bricks plan and how it is affecting education and student life. She says that because of the nature of her classes, it was an easy transition to online learning. She says that because she doesn’t have to take labs she doesn’t feel the same stressors as other students and her professors in the Education Department have done a great job in aiding their students to reach their goals, even in this trying time. Though Sam herself is not personally struggling with the online learning format, she, being a tutor for The College, sees first-hand how challenging it is for many students. We discussed how many students simply cannot adapt to being online and losing the personal connection with classmates and professors. Continuing to discuss personal connection, we talked about how almost all aspects of student life have been taken away this semester, due to the pandemic. As of this semester, the College of Charleston Honor Code states that gatherings of ten people or more can result in expulsion from The College. This rule, while beneficial to stopping the speed of COVID-19, has completely eliminated the ability to meet new people and participate and host student life events. Clubs and other campus organizations also struggled to meet this semester, further compromising what comes with being a college student.

As a college student, Sam is experiencing a lot of back and forth between home and school, which has played a role in her live during this pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, Sam was also doing a semester abroad in Prague. She talked about having to book a flight and leave the Czech Republic in the middle of the night to make it home before the United States closed its borders. While home in Chicago for quarantine, she did not leave her home for over 3 months, and the entire city of Chicago went from bustling to still. To limit travel to and from the city, the bridges allowing access over Lake Michigan would only be open at certain times and would otherwise stay closed. Another issue Sam faced because of the lockdown and closing of the borders was the inability to see her mother. Sam’s mom lives in Canada and she hasn’t been able to see her due to travel restrictions.

Because Sam is an out of state student, she experienced a big change when returning to Charleston from Chicago for the start of the 2020 fall semester. She says that she was nervous at first about being in Charleston but soon felt relaxed and safe being here. In our interview, we discussed how different the rules and regulations are here in Charleston, compared to Chicago. In Charleston so many more businesses are allowed to be open, and the city itself is more open than Chicago. We continued to discuss how it is going to be difficult for her to reacclimatize to the much more strict regulations when she returns home for winter break. She thinks that it will be difficult to go from living a somewhat normal life to having to mostly stay home again. I asked Sam if she was nervous about the increase in cases and the number of people traveling for the holidays. She replied, “It doesn’t make me nervous, I think eventually we will all be ok, and if things get shut down again, at least I have my car and can drive back to Charleston for the warmer weather” (Weitzman).

While discussing how being a student during the pandemic and how geography has played an interesting role in Sam’s life, we also discussed how age has played a huge factor in her life as well. We talked about how she is a camp counselor at a day camp in Illinois, and how challenging it was to work there this past summer. Kids understand that something is happening, but it’s hard to teach a kid that they can’t do things like hug and play certain games at camp because of a virus. You don’t want to scare them, but you also have to follow the rules the camp has in place to stay open. She talks about this as a positive experience and one from which she learned a lot.

We also talked about how people her age are in a sense looked down upon and shunned because they are considered “super-spreaders”. She says, “I mean yeah I don’t wear a mask walking down the street, but I am respectful of businesses and what it is going to take to keep them open. It also kind of sucks that many people’s families don’t want to see them because they might have COVID” (Weitzman). We continued to talk about how so many family plans are being canceled because “the college student” will be there, and they are considered a threat. Overall, that really starts to weigh on the individual but has become something that the generation is feeling as a whole.

Following our conversation, I found Sam’s story easily relatable to Rita Charon’s theories on Illness Narrative. Charon advocates for the individual to tell their story, and no matter what, it has a purpose and is necessary to be told. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted our way of living as a society, but each individual tells a story different from the other. Sam’s story in this case includes being a student and how her life has been impacted regarding social and cultural issues. Her surroundings and the locations in which she resides have also challenged her, each in unique ways. Changing location forced her to learn how to adapt to each location has given her a broader outlook on the pandemic and has lessened her fear of it. Overall, she finds that being in her 20s has exposed her to discrimination that she never thought she would experience.