The COVID lockdowns ruined my freshman year at the University of Virginia. 3 years later, I'm still struggling to have a normal college experience.
- Thanks to COVID-19 lockdowns, my first year at the University of Virginia was isolating.
- Three years later, I'm about to enter my final year, but I still feel behind socially.
"Are you a first-year?" a student asked me on my first day of classes this year.
I had been running around my college campus trying to find my classroom for 20 minutes and finally worked up the courage to beg someone for directions.
"No, I'm a third-year," I said, half smiling and gulping down my embarrassment.
The student pointed me toward the right hall, and I thanked him and rushed off.
Even though it's small, this impactful incident replays in my mind over and over again. I've been a student at the University of Virginia for three years now, and I'll be graduating next year. Yet it still feels like I'm a freshman learning my way around the campus.
That's because the COVID-19 pandemic took away my first year — a pivotal period of adjustment for college students — and only in the fleeting semesters I have left can I become a fully realized student.
My freshman year at UVA was defined by isolation and exhaustion
For me, freshman year did not meet any of the expectations of college life: There was no real orientation and no in-person meetings to foster close friendships. All social activities and organization meetings were over Zoom, which I found awkward and tiresome. Groups of more than six people weren't even allowed to walk together.
Though these rules were necessary — and I'm grateful the school prioritized our health — it was difficult to be deprived of others.
Because of the constantly changing conditions at the school and unpredictable bouts of quarantine, I made only a few close friends. Those girls became a necessary pillar of support; they kept me sane and conveniently lived in my dorm building. Without them, I probably would have just been making TikTok videos in my room.
Still, I felt the isolation, while my ability to socialize faded away. It was like I couldn't talk to anyone. I knew that college was supposed to be a place to meet people, gain new perspectives, and share memories with friends. But for me, it gradually became an environment that reinforced my social anxiety and pushed me away from others.
As the university opened back up, I watched newcomers learn and grow faster than I did
When the vaccines were rolled out, everything changed. New kids came in — the class of 2025. Unlike me in my freshman year, these students could study in real classrooms, go to the dining hall in droves, and meet a bunch of people face-to-face.
I watched so many of these newcomers adjust and find a place for themselves with seeming ease. It pains me to say this, but I became envious. Why was my freshman class the only one to be cheated out of a normal first year? It was like a horrible twist of fate.
My inability to socialize lingered, and I felt behind everyone else.
Now I am content — but I have only a year left to do everything I want to do
Luckily, time heals, and my college experience got better once I pushed myself. As my third year progresses, I have gotten more confident socially. I have taken on a few leadership roles and met new friends. I am excited to see what comes next.
But in the back of my mind, there's still a part of me that wishes things were different. Accepting that my college life is almost over is heartbreaking — it feels like it just started.
For my class, I know many of us had this idea of what college would be like. We were deprived of normality and did not get to really enjoy college until far too late.
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