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Students Of COVID: College Kids Reflect On Life In Lockdown

A college lecture hall with empty chairs
Nathan Dumlao
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The United States remains in the midst of a global pandemic. While protests over police brutality have pushed the coronavirus to the side in headlines, COVID-19 is still a public health threat.

Despite that, some states are beginning to lift restrictions and reopen businesses that have had to shutter. And schools are making plans to re-start in the fall after suddenly being shut down in the spring. Students across the country have experienced the effects of the coronavirus in different ways: whether it has been moving back in with their parents, being laid-off or furloughed from their part-time jobs, or even having to work during the pandemic at an essential business. With Zoom classes becoming the new normal, students have had to follow along in creating a new routine for themselves. For these four students profiled by WFSU, the pandemic has taken their lives and turned them upside down.

Duke University junior, Valentina Saavedra quarantined in her hometown of Miami, Florida. Saavedra is a double major in Linguistics and International Relations with a minor in Korean Language. Aside from her school work, she was working three jobs and her only free time was on the weekends. Saavedra found out her semester would transition online while she was on spring break.

“I was not happy to have school online and stay inside for a huge amount of time. Mostly just because I don’t like the idea of missing out on my school year,” Saavedra said. “I would much rather continue to work regularly where I can learn better when it’s not online and in-person and see my friends and have the independence that comes with not living at home with my parents.”

Saavedra said at first, Duke gave the students a two weeks’ notice to come back and retrieve their things before the school would close, but they quickly changed their decision making it harder for students to make accommodations for themselves.

“They just kind of sent out an email letting everybody know and gave us a two-week window to come back to campus and move out all of our things. And then a day later, they revised their response and said that nobody was allowed to come back on campus and said that everybody had to leave in a week,” Saavedra said. “It was actually a really big deal. A ton of people were upset with the way that Duke handled it because of the way that they were kicking out a lot of international students that didn’t have housing. They were later more accommodating, but it was after a lot of push back from the students.”

Saavedra said she used to keep a close eye on the news for any updates, but she stopped because she felt it was frustrating to see how the pandemic was being handled politically and in the media. She says that as long as she stays home she isn’t too worried, but does have concerns about the state opening up.

Saavedra described her quarantine routine as “relatively monotonous.” She has taken a few trips to the grocery store but likes to go at times when it isn’t too crowded.

“I just kind of had trouble transitioning from the independent life that I had on campus to coming back to not so much of it here,” Saavedra said. “I’m also a very extroverted person so not being able to talk to my friends or see them in person on a daily basis is really difficult for me.”

She was supposed to be traveling to Seattle, Washington this summer for an internship, but the company decided to move the program online so that Saavedra could still get that experience.

“This quarantine has been relatively difficult. I obviously wasn’t expecting it, no one was,” Saavedra said. “I’m very grateful and very thankful and lucky that I have a safe place to stay with classes still staying the same and still have the opportunity to work from home and also still have an internship in the summer which I know a lot of people are not as fortunate to have those amazing luxuries.”

Owen Kong is a junior at the University of Oregon and has quarantined in the city of Eugene, Oregon. The University of Oregon uses a quarter system, so he was about to start his Spring term where he would get to begin some of his core classes in his major. Before everything changed, he was really looking forward to this time in his college experience.

“It finally felt like things were coming into fruition and everything seemed alright,” Kong said.

At first, Kong said it felt like “an extended vacation” because they didn’t really know what was going to happen, but they had to stay in their homes. He decided to stay in Eugene because his dad is 63, meaning he is in the age bracket for those most at risk to contract the coronavirus.

“I didn’t want to put his life at risk. Traveling back home and having to deal with the logistics of moving and all that,” Kong said. “I just didn’t want to put his life at risk, especially because of how bad this disease could get.”

Kong said the transition to online classes has been strange, although he considers himself a “homebody,” so being quarantined hasn't bothered him too much. While he has been staying at home, he has chosen to not keep up with the news.

“I think looking at the news for me is just causing a lot of anxiety and unneeded stress,” Kong said. “What’s the point of tuning in to the news if I’m just going to hear bad news?”

Motivation and drive are things Kong has found himself struggling with throughout this time in isolation. However, he hasn’t let this stop him from doing things like going on a bike ride or walking around his neighborhood.

“I guess it’s just hard to keep up with the daily rigor of life when there is just this overlying fear of something could happen and you don’t even know it,” Kong said. “That’s starting to settle in with how achievable is my dream in reality?”

Kong said that one of the things he misses the most is being able to interact with and learn about people the same way. He said that people are looking at each other differently now and it is creating a disconnect.

Despite everything, Kong said he is looking forward to that moment where everyone can step outside of their homes again and experience the world together. He said he is trying his best to keep up with his family and offer them support during this time.

“I think that feeling is just going to be unlike anything we have ever experienced as humans. Just a better connectedness. I’m excited to see what comes of it, what we can produce out of that feeling,” Kong said.

Claire Ng

CUNY Baruch College junior Claire Ng has quarantined at her parents’ house in Westchester, New York. Before quarantine Ng was taking classes while also serving as an intern for NBC Entertainment’s marketing department. However, being in New York City, things started to get complicated as the case numbers began to rise.

“When things started getting crazy with the whole quarantine, my school was one of the last schools to close in New York City,” Ng said. “Our CUNY hashtag was trending on Twitter because they were refusing to close public schools.”

Ng said that the atmosphere when her school was debating on closing was pretty tense. Since Baruch is a public school, students didn’t think it was going to close, but after seeing private universities in the city start to shut down, students and professors became frustrated. Baruch is a commuter school, therefore, students could put themselves at risk for exposure just by taking the subway.

“One of my professors said ‘I’m part of the top percentile that could be affected and the fact that we’re not closed is just ridiculous,’” Ng said. “So a lot of my professors started canceling classes on their own and moving to online before the school officially announced that it was going to be closed. Everyone was mad because they waited until the last second until they heard that someone got it and then they closed the school.”

Ng had originally planned on quarantining in her apartment in the city, but both her roommates had moved out and she felt lonely and decided she would rather be with her family. She said she found the first few weeks at home to be relaxing doing her online classes and working from home. However, more recently she has been feeling more anxiety about when all of this will be over.

“Now I’m sort of anxious because I don’t know when it's going to let up and I miss being independent, having my own apartment, having my own space,” Ng said.”

As a Journalism major, Ng has been checking the news almost every hour. Being in New York, has made her even more interested in what is going on in how her local politicians are interacting with the president. She said she found it both entertaining and scary.

Ng has gone grocery shopping with her mom. The first time she went she thought it was interesting because she wondered why people hadn’t been this clean before, but the second time she went, reality hit a little harder.

“There was a huge line. Everyone was wearing masks, gloves, you know it,” Ng said. “It has been kind of awkward and uncomfortable because I’m American-born Chinese, I’m third generation, and there has been a lot of hate crimes against Asian Americans ever since the news of the outbreak. I personally haven’t had anyone say any racist remarks to me in person, but when I do go out, I do get stares a lot more than before.”

Ng said her parents don’t want her to return to the city because they fear she might be in danger and that scares them more than her contracting the virus.

“I think it’s really important to highlight these attacks against Asian Americans and really fixing the language behind it,” Ng said. “Calling it the ‘Chinese Virus’ is terrible and not right, so engaging this type of conversation and making people realize these mistakes behind it and what not to view people as.”

Universities are contemplating what their campuses will look like in the fall. Among ideas being floated: fewer in-person courses, and more classes online.

* Editor's Note: When colleges and universities closed in March most students returned home. Among those who’ve had their semesters cut short: WFSU News intern Kayla Gallagher, a Florida State University Student. Kayla reported this story from her home in South Florida, sharing the experience of students like herself who found themselves suddenly uprooted and plunged into the unknown.

Copyright 2020 WFSU. To see more, visit .

Kayla Gallagher