During this pandemic of the coronavirus, I have been severely affected in multiple ways, mentally, emotionally and academically. During this time, it is difficult to be away from everyone and everything I know.
This year I began an advanced standing program to earn my master’s degree in social service administration at the University of Chicago. As a former foster youth coming to this university, it was very intimidating. The coronavirus, as many of us know, has been daunting for so many – from losing loved ones, to missing the celebrations of accomplishments, to being forced into self-isolation. Whatever the case is, this is hard.
In my situation, I was unable to go back home during this time to be around loved ones. My classes have moved online for my final quarter of not only my graduate school experience but also my entire career as a student. And while I physically have people who live in my apartment with me, I feel very alone. I am alone without being alone.
Going to remote or distance learning is a barrier for me because I chose this university, knowing its stance on online courses. Basically, at the University of Chicago, there are no online classes offered because they have a belief in the richness of education and how in-person learning coincides with the richness of education. Due to the stance that the University of Chicago holds around online learning, the spring quarter is going from a 10-week schedule to a nine-week schedule. This decision was made so that all faculty and staff can learn how to hold classes online, as none of them have had to do this during their career at this institution.
This adds another level of stress for me because I now have to learn all the material virtually, in one less week. If I wanted to take online classes, I would have made sure I could do that. I do recognize this isn’t a normal situation, but the basic principle of how I choose to learn remains. Not only does online learning have its difficulties, but it can be challenging to focus on learning or completing assignments when you are always worried about being away from your loved ones and wondering if they are well during this pandemic. I have older family members and family members who are immunocompromised, so focusing on what I have to do for classes along with this, is no easy task.
I am a very extroverted individual so being cooped up in my apartment away from friends and social activities is challenging as well for me. As I mentioned, I live in an apartment with two other roommates, who both have significant others that are either with us during this time or who come and visit, or they have their pets to keep them grounded. I am not physically alone, but due to the nature of my roommates and their relationships, I am alone.
I feel stuck. Being by myself is not easy. Some see it as a blessing or a way to recharge, I see it as lonely and draining. Sure, we have technology where we can communicate or see our friends and loved ones, but it is not comparable to life with in-person interactions. It merely dilutes those interactions to a point where they suffice, but for a small period of time. I look forward to the coming days when I can hug, high-five, dance, or in some other way, physically interact with my friends and loved ones.
Lastly, during this time of isolation, I have had to identify my feeling around this situation and the abrupt ending of my in-person graduate experience and career as a student. They are feelings of devastation, frustrations and mourning. This is not the way I wanted to end this chapter in my life. I wanted to have a typical student experience up until the last day. I wanted to be able to celebrate with my fellow students and loved ones with a hooding ceremony, one that I have dreamed of my entire life. While the ceremony hasn’t been canceled, yet, I fear that this dream and goal of mine is being passed along as just another day in the life.
While I know I have achieved something great, it’s not the same as what I hoped and dreamed it would look or feel like. I look forward to the coming days when I can celebrate this significant accomplishment of mine properly. While I know it may not be how it was initially supposed to be, I will have to sacrifice and make do the best I know how. I have overcome a lot, but the coronavirus isn’t going to stop me now.
DJ Ditto is currently pursuing a master’s degree in social work with a concentration in social administration at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and will graduate in June. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work at California State University, Fresno with a minor in deaf studies and a certificate in cross-cultural competency. His career interests are around transitional age foster youth during their pursuit and attainment of post-secondary education as well as administrative support in the higher education system for special student populations. His interest in this career path stems from his personal experience as a former foster youth as well as being a part of and working for a foster and homeless youth support program at his undergraduate institution.