Being a full-time college student already comes with its challenges, but being a full-time student and full-time essential worker during a global pandemic is the hardest trial I have yet faced.
My life changed dramatically soon after the Covid-19 pandemic struck the U.S. I was forced to continue my junior year at Cal State Long Beach online at the same time the number of shifts assigned to me at my grocery store job nearly doubled. Though I didn’t have to take the additional shifts, the extra money was helpful.
As a shopper for Amazon Whole Foods, I spend the day walking around the store gathering items from my customers’ shopping lists, bagging them and placing them in a designated area for drivers to pick up. Shifts can be as long as 8 hours.
The Whole Foods Market I work at in Southern California is open to the public and organized like a typical grocery store. The aisles are as long as a bowling lane and the shelves are more than six feet tall. I’m 5’5”, and I can’t reach items on the top shelf without assistance. At the end of the day, my legs are sore from walking and my back aches from over extending my arms.
My shifts were never so busy before the pandemic. I had time to rest and talk with my co-workers between orders. While the number of orders we received varied daily, typically we would complete 30 to 50 orders per day. Now, we have to handle as many as 100 orders in a day.
Balancing school this past semester and work wasn’t difficult at first. I was able to make my own schedule each week, so I took shifts around my class schedule.
Before online instruction began in March, I would schedule my classes from 9:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m and work from 3:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. I was on campus four days out of the week, and I worked five days a week.
I thought I could keep my same work schedule once I began online classes. I assumed that since I live close to my job and my commute would be short, I would have more time to do school work. I realized how wrong I was during the first week of virtual learning.
As a result, this past spring semester was by far the hardest semester of my college career.
Online instruction requires a lot more time and patience than in-person classes. I was still responsible for being in Zoom meetings, working on assignments and taking tests. Two-to-three hours of my day were dedicated to getting class assignments done. My mental health began to suffer since I was working constantly. It seemed impossible to achieve a balance between work and school.
The stress and lack of sleep caused me to snap around finals week.
I began to feel overwhelmed with all the school assignments I still had to complete during the last hour of my shift one day. I went to the bathroom and cried for a bit. Realizing that I was still at work, I wiped my tears and continued working like nothing was wrong. I was back in tears once I got home.
After I opened the front door, I went straight into my mom’s room and cried for an hour. I told her that I was “over everything” and “just didn’t want to continue with life anymore.”
Work has become more stressful, too. I constantly worry that I am being exposed to the virus since I am out in public often; and fear I may infect my family members. Keeping a mask on all day makes it difficult to breathe.
This summer I was converted to a full-time position due to the high demand. While that is great news, now I don’t know how I’m going to balance being a full-time student and full-time employee.
Cal State Long Beach has announced that the majority of classes will be online next semester. I’m upset that I will be forced to continue my studies online. This coming semester is my senior year and none of the fun activities I had planned can be done at home. I won’t be able to hang out with friends or make new ones. I won’t be able to grab coffee at the cafeteria. I probably won’t be able to walk the stage at commencement. Instead, I will have to relive the spring semester.
If I drop out of college now I’m just going to work more and won’t likely return to school anytime soon. I can’t quit my job either.
This is the only source of income I have. I’m the only one working in my household, and I want to have money just in case my mom needs extra cash to help pay the bills.
My mind is made up. I’m going into the fall semester hoping to do my best to balance being a full-time student and a full-time essential worker.
I just don’t know how long I will be able to handle it.
Iman Palm is a senior at California State University, Long Beach and is a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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