Pulling from all aspects of the pandemic can really shed light on people’s experiences as they went through this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience. All of our personal experiences are different. Whether we were learning online, working, getting sent home from work, etc. all of us as a community experienced a lot of change. Doing these interviews allows us to consider everyone’s experiences and value them as we do our own. There were many struggles and many changes we all endured, and conducting these interviews about a global pandemic has provided so much insight into how people have coped. Hopefully these interviews not only allow us to have more empathy for others in our community, but also maybe help others cope and move forward with their experiences.
This week I interviewed another student here at WCU. Emerson Steffe is a junior Communications major. She plans to do pharmaceutical sales or medical device sales after graduating. Her freshman year was the year we were sent home due to the rapidly-spreading pandemic. So that crucial first year was cut short for her and she hasn’t experienced a “normal year” until this year. Her sophomore year was the entire virtual learning year, and up until this fall semester of her junior year she hasn’t experienced in person classes. In this interview, we learn how COVID-19 affected her college experience, her worklife, her mental health and overall growth.
Do you feel your experience here at WCU has been greatly affected since you got sent home your freshman year? How did you feel coming back on campus in person as a junior?
Definitely. I do feel my experience at West Chester has been extremely affected. Freshman year is crucial to everyone’s college career — it sets the scene for what these next four years are going to be for you. When it was the second semester [of] my freshman year, that was when I first really started to enjoy it: learning the ropes here at WCU and making so many friends, joining extracurriculars and getting the hang of my routines. So when it got cut short, I was definitely disappointed. Coming back this year was hard. It was hard experiencing in person classes again and getting back to my “routine.” But it was also a great experience when I came back and my professors were so understanding of everyone’s situations. It’s crazy to think I left campus as a freshman and came back as a junior. Even still living here in West Chester throughout the virtual year, it definitely didn’t feel like I was a sophomore in my college career, if that makes sense. It’s almost like I skipped a year of school because there was nothing going on on campus that entire time.
How has your life been affected since the pandemic began? Has your work life changed? Social life?
I would say my life changed a pretty decent amount. I definitely became less social and less of a “going out” type of person than I was. I enjoy my alone time and try to focus on myself. I still work a good amount currently as a server at P.J Whelihans, and I find myself getting better at being more productive now that life has “resumed,” I guess you could say. Right before the initial lockdown, I was a lifeguard for the pool here at West Chester, so when the school shut down, obviously I had to stop working. My work at a different pool in my home town still started back up in June. This job came with strict regulations, of course, in terms of social distancing and what was going to be the most safe for the people attending the pool and myself and my coworkers.
Would you say the pandemic was overall a positive or negative outcome for you personally in your own growth?
The effects of the pandemic were definitely a mix of both. It helped my overall growth as a person and helped me become more independent. It also taught me things that I didn’t know about myself, for example my social anxiety. I definitely learned a lot about myself because of that time forced to be spent alone, or with very minimal amounts of people. But overall, I think the time I spent alone with myself helped me for my life right now as life went on and regulations got a little less strict. Now, I do things independently like going to the library by myself and also not taking social gatherings and even going to class for granted, since there was a time [when] we weren’t able to do all of those things.
How has COVID impacted you mentally? Why do you feel this way?
In the beginning of quarantine, it was hard going from college student life — who went out and was social and always had a lot of work to do — to being alone at home with almost no work to do, and little to no social life outside of my family. I struggle with not staying busy and it took a toll in some ways, for sure, but I had to learn how to engage in other activities that I could do at home while social distancing. Once I found other things I enjoyed doing, I began to actually enjoy quarantine and I sometimes wish I had it back.
What are your feelings towards the pandemic seeming like we may be nearing the end?
My feelings towards the pandemic have been a roller coaster. I definitely found myself to be grateful for it at times because, like I said, it taught me a lot about myself. But overall, I want to move on with my life and keep moving forward. I’m excited for it to be “over” soon, or at least not live in the fear of it. I don’t know if it’ll ever actually “end,” since it’ll now be this illness we’ll have forever, but the […] lockdowns and life-changing things we experienced [are] hopefully wrapping up. My biggest hope is that with the way things are looking currently, my senior year coming up will be as normal as possible.
Yasmin Schepis is a fourth-year English B.A Major with minors in Journalism and Literature & Diverse Cultures.