November 26, 2021
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What is your experience post virtual learning?

If you ask anyone on campus this semester about their experience moving from online to in-person learning, you will probably get varying answers on their stress levels, ways they took care of their mental health and how they feel now being back on campus with full in-person instruction.

For myself, remote learning was both a blessing and a curse. In the fall semester of my sophomore year, I was tired and drained, mentally and emotionally, from just keeping on at the normal pace I had always worked at. When we went home for the extended spring break, I learned quickly that I needed school to have a distraction. 

By the time we had gotten the word that we were online for the foreseeable future, I was heartbroken. My entire life was in Ithaca, literally and figuratively, much of my belongings, friends and just day-to-day normal schedule were now three hours away. 

Having structure and things to do during the day was something that I still felt like I really needed to keep myself sane. Once classes came back online, I felt like my old self, but that soon wore away as burnout settled in. Students and faculty alike were thrown, all navigating the world as it seemed to be unraveling in front of us together. 

What it brought was a level of compassion from students and professors that I had never seen since starting at the college. Professors were more understanding about deadlines and making sure that students took breaks. 

But just as the positives hit a high, I started feeling trapped in this hamster wheel-like schedule. I saw the opportunity of being home with nothing to do as a way for me to work even harder and produce more content for my journalism career as well as academic career. 

The non-stop nature of it really wore me down, and I was forced to push myself to step away from school or journalism and spend that time on something fun that I truly enjoyed. I also made the decision to never do work in my room and instead move down to the dining room table to go to class online as well as do homework. 

I thought that going back in the spring last year would give me the learning atmosphere that I needed to be the most productive student, and in a way it did. I was able to sit in a classroom and still had the ability to stay home from class and take it online if I wasn’t feeling like myself that day. I was able to be back with my teammates, friends and professors, creating that sense of community that I had gotten used to in my first two years. 

Fast forward to this fall semester and things have changed once again. Everyone is back and at times, it seems as though everyone thinks we’re back to normal. I’ve said this a lot to peers and professors alike, these past two months have been some of the hardest in my academic career. For some reason, being back in person full time feels more draining than before. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I think there’s a common thread that can be drawn to explain this feeling that myself, and I’m sure others, have. 

For nearly two years, we’ve been in our homes in lockdown away from groups of people. We were forced to create relationships virtually and expected to rekindle those relationships automatically once we returned in person. For nearly two years, we prioritized ourselves by taking naps during the day or in between classes, making sure we actually ate three meals in the day and when the world felt like too much, we stopped and asked for help or for empathy and extensions. 

Now, students aren’t willing to just push aside our well-being for an assignment. We have forgotten that we just went through some of the most traumatic events in our lives as a campus community. Instead, we’re being swamped with work and afraid to ask for extensions because of the idea that everything is back to normal. 

It’s frustrating to see all that empathy and compassion just disappear into thin air. It’s not just students either, I’m sure professors and other faculty feel the same emotions. We’re still living during a pandemic, and it’s imperative that we all take a step back and rethink the way we do education. It requires us to be more empathetic and flexible, and the benefits outweigh so many of the negatives. 

Alyssa Spady can be reached at aspady@ithaca.edu