In 2019, I entered freshman year with the belief that I had the power and will to make the next four years at the University of California, Los Angeles, some of the best times of my life. I was naive but optimistic, armed with the goal of pursuing a career in law and exploring the city of LA with my two new roommates.
All of this changed when the Covid-19 pandemic hit halfway through my first winter quarter. On March 12, 2020, I sat outside my dorm at 6 a.m., waiting for a ride to the Los Angeles International Airport. From there, I caught the first flight out of California and traveled back to my home of Honolulu, Hawaii. As I watched a deserted Westwood speed by in the backseat of my Uber, I had no idea that I would not be returning to UCLA for more than a year.
When I arrived back in Westwood in September 2021 as a rising junior, worry had replaced some of my excitement from my first year. After spending part of freshman year and all of my sophomore year taking online classes from home, I knew that the return to in-person instruction would be a major transition. While I was eager to explore Santa Monica with my friends, sing in the UCLA Chorale and study at Kerckhoff Coffee House on campus, I was also nervous to leave the security of home.
In an attempt to quell some of my nerves, I had begun preparing for apartment life as soon as I submitted the last final of my sophomore year. Although I was excited by the space and freedom my studio apartment afforded me, I was also overwhelmed by the seemingly unlimited set of responsibilities my current roommate, a junior at UCLA, and I now faced. In addition to furnishing our apartment and building Ikea furniture for the first time, I worried about grocery shopping on a regular basis, cooking nutritious meals that could last us throughout the week, creating a cleaning schedule for the apartment and more.
On top of this, I had mixed feelings about taking my first in-person class in a year and a half. While I knew that in-person classes would force me to stay more focused during lectures, I also worried about my health and safety in the face of the delta variant, as well as my ability to balance my academics with demanding extracurricular activities, including writing for my school paper. For the first time in my undergraduate career, my coursework consisted solely of upper-division classes, and I mentally tried to prepare myself for more frequent exams, longer reading assignments and more time-consuming papers.
I now realize that, while some of my fears were legitimate, others were unfounded. I was able to feel safe on campus by double-masking in lecture halls and taking Covid-19 tests on a weekly basis. My class schedule, although challenging, was still manageable. I was also surprised to find that I often looked forward to my in-person class because of the opportunities it provided to meet my classmates — something I struggled to do over Zoom. I relished being able to turn in my seat and chat with my friends while waiting for our lecture to begin, or walking to the library with my peers after class. Although small things, these moments represented the quintessential college experience to me after my social interactions were limited to digital screens and Zoom calls for so long.
Moreover, while I sometimes missed the convenience of on-campus housing and UCLA’s top-rated dorm food (my favorite is the chicken curry), I also found myself looking forward to returning to my apartment at the end of every day. My roommate and I found ways to make even the most mundane tasks feel fun and exciting, as we blasted Taylor Swift’s newest album while mopping the apartment floors and watched episodes of “Sweet Magnolias” as we boiled pasta and packed our tofu stir-fry lunches for the week.
That’s not to say that transitioning back to campus life was easy. After living with my parents for more than a year, I found myself missing our movie nights, Sunday runs in the park and family dinners. As early as October, I began counting down the days until I could fly back home for Thanksgiving, sometimes struggling to hold back tears as I completed class readings and wrote my term papers. However, I eventually learned to fill my days with Trader Joe’s grocery runs with my roommate, trips to eat in the nearby Sawtelle neighborhood and daily calls with my parents. The night before I left to return back home for winter break, I hugged my roommate, Kelly, tightly and sincerely thanked her for sharing the best quarter I could have asked for.
Although it took me 10 weeks, I ultimately learned that, despite all of its challenges, in-person learning is best for me.
Megan Tagami is a junior studying political science and public affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and an intern with EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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