A little over a year ago, I stepped onto UChicago’s campus for the first time. As an admitted student, I hadn’t ever thought that I could find a home at college so fast. Taking my first stroll through the quad was a moment that gave me excitement at the possibility that I could find a space that could once and for all be removed from my past, giving me a chance to define my own destiny. And if there is a position I could not anticipate being so complicated in these times, it is being a first-year during a pandemic.
Fortunately, like many other first-years, UChicago presented me with the community that allowed me to grow and mature in a way that I did not know was possible in such a short time. Through classes, RSOs, and, most of all, the people, college became my home. Was it perfect? Of course not. It had its flaws—the pressure to always be working or seeking out future career paths—many of which I felt sometimes hindered my ability to take advantage of it at times. Yet, for all the flaws, I genuinely could not see myself anywhere else.
Then, abruptly, our first year on campus came to an end. And within a week, an identity we were forming within our new home swiftly shifted. To be a first-year in this pandemic, without the same established relationship to this school as the rest of the students, is in many ways a blessing and a curse. And, as we all do our best to adjust to this new reality, I won’t deny that the challenges we all face coming to terms with it could define our first year as members of the UChicago community.
Transitioning to life at home has come with its many challenges, things that I hadn’t anticipated dealing with so soon. To return to a life with nowhere near the same autonomy nor opportunities to do different activities or explore new spaces is difficult. But while I’ve felt boxed in at times, I’ve made strides to express my own growth and maturity in my house. Whether that’s reminding my family that I need my room back to study and wake up for Sosc at 7:30 in the morning, or that I have a club meeting so dinner may be pushed back, they understand that I have obligations that I need to maintain that existed before I had to come back home. The mindset they instilled in me to put my education as my priority is, in many ways, what has allowed them to let me be the college student that I am, despite being at home amid a pandemic.
Insofar as I’ve grown and matured by being a college student, I don’t necessarily feel as though I am not myself. I still have the same mannerisms my family recognizes, which my friends from home remember through FaceTime and Houseparty. Sure, I may have experiences from college that are completely detached from anything at home, but I make sure to be conscious of that in daily conversations. I don’t try to impose an attitude that I am better because I’ve gone to college and come back. While I may slip into political arguments like I do with friends at school, I reel in my sporadic thoughts and just take time to appreciate the fact that I’m at home with family and getting into unnecessary disagreements isn’t necessary.
We aren’t far removed from high school, so living under our parents’ roofs for this extended period may not seem very far removed at all. Yet, as I’ve gotten adjusted to life at home, I can’t help but realize how short college really has been. Leaving for campus from California in September was just over six months ago. And in those six months, aside from the current situation, I had spent just three weeks away from Max P., the Reg, Harper, or anywhere else in Hyde Park.
It goes without saying that I am grateful to be in the safe and comfortable space within my own home and be okay in these times when so many are truly fighting for their lives. It is with them in mind that I want to continue to carry a further sense of gratitude and awareness of my own privileges in attending a place like UChicago. Being a first-year in these times gives me the chance to be able to use these first months as a college student as a sort of test run. I know what has and hasn’t worked for me, and I can make adjustments in the future to make the most of the time I have left. Even though I acknowledge that this will be the final stamp of my time as a first-year, I remain optimistic that we can grow stronger together, better equipped to take on any other challenges we may face as we become upperclassmen in the future.
Noah Tesfaye is a first-year in the College.