Audio: Listen to Sophie Stachurski read her piece on her off-campus freshman year, “When freshman year is put on pause”.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7:13 a.m., I am woken up by the lovely sounds of “Radar.” For a moment I lie there, swaddled by my brand-new comforter, resisting the rays of sun that invade my dorm. These are the days of 8 a.m. Spanish where timing is everything. My next steps take me to my freshman dorm common room where I nurse a cup of coffee made on my Keurig mini. My well-laid plans, however, are brought to an abrupt halt when an ever-so infamous Georgetown dorm rat plops itself in the chair beside me.
Except it’s not a Georgetown dorm rat—instead, it is Rocky, my well-loved and well-fed housecat. And the Keurig is the same one that saw me make the switch from hot chocolate to hot coffee as a high schooler, and the only reason I have a new comforter is because my old one ripped in the middle of the summer. I am not in my dorm but in the room I’ve occupied for the past five years. I do have Spanish at 8 a.m., though.
Contrary to my original plans, I attend classes at a D.C. university taught by D.C. professors from a little desk in my room in Connecticut. It’s funny—as early as sophomore year, my mom would tease me and tell me I was ready for college. I was inclined to agree with her, spending hours daydreaming about a life that resembles a Dark Academia Tumblr blog more strongly than it does the actual college experience. Still, that didn’t stop me from envisioning Gothic architecture and sleepy coffee shops nestled next to grand libraries. Who would’ve thought a global pandemic—and not my asthma—would be what turned out to stand between me and beige trench coats and musty old books?
Living in a state that allegedly handled the pandemic well isn’t always advantageous. Out of my graduated friend group, it’s only me and one other friend, also destined for the DMV area, whose abidance to stay-at-home orders has extended into our first semesters of college.
It’s weird watching your friends move on as you remain chained to the place you swore you would leave with every college application fee. I feel like I’m in something of a high school-college limbo. I can’t truly feel like a college student, and yet the chapter of my life as a high schooler has indubitably been closed. I wish I could say all of my friends at other schools felt the same, but the truth is, they don’t.
Sometime in the end of September, one of my closest friends at another university found herself back home for a weekend to tie up some loose ends. With the autumnal weather still a few forecasts away, she, my other homebound compatriot, and I agreed to meet for a reunion, complete with greasy diner food—all handled in a socially distanced way, of course. Within the first few minutes of our meeting, she jumped into stories of all of her college-level antics. In spite of hybrid classes and rearranged living spaces, her new life had started off quite nicely, and she was even settling into a new group of friends. I was overjoyed to hear all of this, though that didn’t stop me from feeling uneasy and envious.
As she dropped names of the boys she thought were cute and the girl on her freshman floor who complimented her on a shirt we had thrifted together, I couldn’t help but realize our lives were no longer being run at the same pace. Whereas she had taken off on her first marathon, I suppose I was still struggling to find my breath during a 5k.
When Georgetown pulled the plug on a fall semester, I feared I might become one of those graduates clinging to their high school to avoid the reality of college and adulthood. While the pandemic has spared me the pain of wandering through the halls of my high school as a visitor and awkwardly interrupting some juniors’ APUSH class, there’s another force at work separating me from my desired collegiate lifestyle, and it’s deeply rooted in the FOMO I’m feeling with my own best friend.
It’s a Thursday night and I’m reading something for my Problem of God class, no Midnight Mug in hand, when an underclassmen friend of mine calls. Still in high school, she’s campaigning to be Student Body President, a position I held in what seems like another life, and wants my advice. For the first time in my life, I wish I couldn’t help. It’s not because I don’t want her to inherit the position— I think she’s quite suited for it actually—but there’s a selfish part of me that wants to be somewhere else. I wish I could tell her I was busy getting ready for a night out or even that I simply couldn’t speak because I didn’t want to bother the person one table over at Lau.
But I can’t. And that’s something I’m learning to be okay with.
Mourning something that’s yet to happen is an odd experience, but it’s one I’m gradually becoming more familiar with. Cancellations and postponements have become a fact of life and at this point, spending too much time dwelling on what should’ve been only perpetuates the hurt.
Being at home is difficult. Being at home and watching your friends find a new life while yours stays stagnant is even more difficult. Nevertheless, there are ways to alleviate this. For me, this looks like getting involved in virtual clubs and taking time to not just text, but actually call the people I can no longer see daily. It certainly isn’t the panacea for pandemic-related blues, but it helps mitigate frustrations as I wait for the world to mend. In times like these, safety and security must be prioritized over the traditional college experience we all feel entitled to. College campuses have proven to be COVID-19 crockpots. It would be remiss to assert that the average college students’ relative resistance to COVID-19 indicates a definitive safe return. Not every member of the Georgetown community is an able-bodied youth with no preexisting conditions. The belief that the wants of the former group outweigh the safety of the latter group is a dangerous mindset.
Knowing this, of course, is not enough to assuage the immense disappointment my peers and I have experienced in these past months and most recently, this past week. The recent announcement that I would be spending a second semester at home was disappointing, of course, but not surprising. It does, however, still sting to see my friends post pictures of their campuses with captions that hint at future reunions.
While I give myself a few hours each week to envision the hijinks that would ensue post-move-in, I also understand the importance of acknowledging and accepting the present reality. To have the conception that alternative intrinsically equals inferior is self-sabotage. As much as I envy my friends who have started their on-campus journeys, I do recognize the obstacles that have inhibited their first-year experience, too. Even if I haven’t yet encountered the things that modern society has deemed integral to the college experience, the fact remains that I am a freshman in my first year of college with nearly a semester’s worth of classes completed. Although I haven’t stepped foot on campus since some time in early 2019, my virtual involvement with school is helping me piece together an image of what should’ve been and what will be my Georgetown experience, even though it’s taking a little longer than anticipated to actually get there. For now, I can deal with a little freshman FOMO.