Teen Talk: Pandemic affects perceptions of our reality

Matthew Frederick

As a college student, I’ve just had a nice month-long break over the holiday season and into January.

Unlike years past, I had such a large amount of time and, very suddenly, very little with which to keep myself occupied. Naturally, I found myself a nice seasonal job where I live and found that working gave me a newfound sense of purpose during this bizarre period of “dead” time.

In high school, winter break was merely a week long. And most of the time, there were projects or other homework assignments that needed to be finished before returning. As a college student, not only did the duration of my winter break increase by a sizeable margin, but I also had no classes or school-related tasks to be working on.

That’s why I welcomed the somewhat oxymoronic reprieve of seasonal work. What began as part-time hours here or there quickly turned into a full-time gig for the months of December and January. My employer kindly offered to keep me on even after my break had finished, again in that part-time capacity as originally stipulated, because I am remaining at home this semester to take my courses virtually.

What I didn’t expect were the ways in which I had adjusted subconsciously to this change of pace from the role of student to worker in such a short period of time. For eight weeks, I had a brand-new routine which I fell into with relative ease. Now that my classes have resumed, I’ve found the transition back to being a full-time student to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.

College courses are not structured the same way an 8-to-4 job is; my weekly schedule, now, feels haphazard compared to the relative simplicity of my winter break routine. I still wake up early because most of my classes are scheduled for the mornings. However, I wasn’t prepared for all the downtime between courses and, somehow, I had forgotten, in such a short timeframe the discipline needed to create one’s own schedule around assignments and due dates.

What’s more, I still take occasional shifts here and there at my job. I’ve discovered quickly that my attempts to fit real work in with my homework are more arduous than I had anticipated. Of course, this also doesn’t account for the mental task of adjusting my own habits and expectations back to prioritizing my responsibilities as a student and the maintenance of high grades.

What this all boils down to, really, is my own necessity to rework my mentality to resume its earlier state from this fall when I was enrolled in classes while living on campus. Compounding the issue, however, are other circumstances such as the fact that I am no longer on campus.

It’s a whole lot easier to remember you’re a student when you wake up in a dorm building surrounded by peers. The routine of studying is much easier to adapt to when academic buildings and study spaces are a short jaunt down the sidewalk.

In contrast, assuming the “student” mentality is not as easy in a home environment. There are no peers with whom you can commiserate about this or that nasty professor. The only study spaces are a messy room and a kitchen counter shared with a cat who demands attention ad infinitum. Couches, of course, remain off limits because of their power to entice naps and other dangerous forms of leisure.

Perhaps in another, less chaotic world, I could drive to a coffee shop and set up for an entire day. In the age of COVID, however, the sanctity of a piping hot latte and free charging stations no longer exists (at least in my neck of the woods).

I suppose the sheer weirdness of our times has finally sunk its way into my bones. I am confined at home under the illusion that I have boundless free time when in reality I have even less than I did pre-pandemic, veiled by the guise of virtual learning which imposes a certain kind of physical and cognitive distance.

In the meantime, all I (and all the rest of the plethora of students at home this spring) can do is plead with the gods of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a daily basis to distribute vaccines in such a timely manner that I can return to school at some point before I finish my degree; I have six remaining semesters (not counting the current one) in case you’re wondering.

Matthew Frederick is a freshman at SUNY New Paltz and a graduate of Oneonta High School.

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