“Based on these considerations, we have made the difficult decision to hold all undergraduate courses online for the fall semester, with limited exceptions.”
Disappointment, but a hidden sense of relief.
Standing at the food court in San Patricio, a mall I regularly visited with my dad whenever I went back to Puerto Rico, was not how I expected my college stage to start. For months, I pictured the first week with my parents helping me move in, meeting new people during orientation and finally seeing Washington, D.C. again. I admit a slight part of me wanted everything to slow down. Change surrounded me and I could not process saying goodbye to what I knew in order to enter the unknown.
Three weeks before my intended departure to Washington, D.C., I remained back home in Puerto Rico. At the same time, the pandemic raged across the U.S. My parents suggested that I should take advantage of this time. They thought I should return to my roots and take a break. When I received the email, I took it as a sign that I need to stay on the island a while longer.
I needed to understand who I am now.
I lost the second half of my senior year when I couldn’t say goodbye to the friends who helped and welcomed me when my family moved to Boston three years ago. This decision seemed like another blow to the life I pictured for myself, tearing down the fantasy I created of college Nuria. I didn’t give myself time to process what online school would mean for my freshman year. Instead, I hopped right back into school.
The first few weeks felt surreal, almost like I lived in a dream state where nothing ever really happened. I spent my weekends visiting my family, traveling around the island to discover the corners tucked away from me, such as the mountain side of the island and visiting the local bookstore. Inside, people my age roamed around the creamy brown shelves as much as they could. I started disassociating from the world around me, submerging myself in schoolwork and the student-run newspaper.
Night and day blurred together as I developed a new routine, trying to adjust to the unexpected online college stage I entered. I felt incomplete, like I would miss out on the years my parents always talked about while growing up. I spent hours submerged in my schoolwork and books, searching for a coping mechanism to escape this new isolated state I felt stuck in.
I became obsessed with rewriting every assignment at least three times to avoid receiving a mediocre grade. I noticed myself drifting off and suddenly anxious about the project due the following week. I felt my breath catching in my throat every time I thought about moving forward in my life. After all, if I could barely handle a normal online semester, how would I handle a career?
My family and friends watched from the sidelines as I continued to derail into this perfectionist cycle.
I felt myself spiraling into the inner corners of my mind with no way out. They tried to take me out of the apartment to enjoy a lovely beach day or a road trip around the island. Despite their efforts, I always ended up bringing an assignment or incessantly checking my grades. I felt like I was drowning in the workload, becoming stuck in the same point of life I intended to move away from. I thought the only way I could become successful in the future involved eliminating any possible distraction from my life, even my family.
Months passed by, but my behavior only worsened. Even with my birthday trailing up, I could barely think of a plan to celebrate the 19th milestone. That’s when my friend began an intervention plan to wake me up from this unnecessary cycle that only caused me to overthink and misjudge my work ethic.
I remember them inviting me to eat dinner with them to celebrate a friend’s birthday, a moment where we all forgot our phones to cherish instead the little time we spent together. After all, COVID-19 brought all but borrowed time for us to reunite. We spent the night reminiscing about our old high school and middle school times in Puerto Rico. The times where the biggest problem we encountered involved making sure the annual play would come together in time.
In that moment, I understood what so many movies and books try to stuff down our throats. The present is immeasurable to any future we think perfection could lead to. The present is where we become the best version of ourselves. Yet, if you let down your guard, you might submerge yourself in an endless cycle of fear and uncertainty.
Work hard but cherish your today.