Four months ago, I didn’t want to come back to campus. Staying at my mother’s home in India, I remember reading article after article, worrying about the astronomical COVID–19 case counts in the United States, the police brutality, the civil unrest. It was scary. I didn’t want to risk catching a life-threatening disease causing long-term pulmonary and neurological damage. I didn’t want to live next to a deathly-quiet campus that paled in comparison to my memories of my first year. I didn’t want to return to a country in the midst of what was being referred to as an urban civil war.
And yet, a month and a half ago, I found myself on a repatriation flight to the United States, traveling halfway around the world to move into an apartment with an acquaintance, her friend from Claremont McKenna College, and a stranger we met through Facebook. It wasn’t my ideal scenario, and I can’t describe how apprehensive I was about everything—my unknown roommates, the steepening COVID–19 curve, the knowledge that I wouldn’t be returning back home for a while. Now, six weeks into my second year of college, I couldn’t be more certain that I have made the right decision. It’s a little early for Thanksgiving, but personally, I’m already counting the reasons why I’m thankful I returned to campus. Despite everything that's happened in the United States, the UChicago community has found ways to retain a sense of social optimism. While far from normal, the social scene has exceeded the lifeless, depressing campus that I was nervous about returning to.
For one, I live with some of the most incredible students at UChicago, and I don’t know if I ever would’ve met them had it not been for the sudden, COVID-prompted housing waivers for second-years. At the time I moved in, they were three people I barely knew, two of whom I’d never even met or known before. But they’re now people I consider my good friends whom I can count on for anything, from grocery shopping to relationship advice.
I’m thankful for the fact that I can finally meet my friends in person. With some, I’m able to experience gathering safely and responsibly in their apartments, like we would have before the pandemic. With others who are more conscious of or susceptible to the virus, I’ve enjoyed being able to sit, talk, and listen to them in person—even if it’s means we have to be outside in the cold wearing masks. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed interacting with people in person.
I also hadn’t realized how much I’d missed meeting new people. Having recently pledged Delta Gamma, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some of the most talented, intelligent, and kind women on campus—I’ve incredibly enjoyed getting to know them.
But these aren't just things that I'm personally grateful for. I think these experiences are all consequences of the greater UChicago student body as a whole making sustained efforts to foster as much human connection as we can. Whether it’s roommates taking turns hosting cooking nights, friend groups interacting as responsibly as they can, or Greek life members’ efforts to reach out to each other, I think the past six weeks have been proof of how as students, we’re making the most of an extenuating situation. Of course, social life can’t be the same during a pandemic. But for everything that I haven’t been able to do recently, be it attending my Sosc discussions in person or properly celebrating my 18th birthday, I think of something else that I’ve done instead, like meeting new people in my apartment complex.
I don’t think the coronavirus pandemic will dissipate anytime soon; if anything, it’s spreading faster than ever in the United States. And until we have a working vaccine, we’re stuck with having to wait the pandemic out, with each of us doing our part in slowing the spread. But in the meantime, I’m proud of the UChicago community for finding ways to connect despite circumstances.
Manya Bharadwaj is a second-year in the College.