Stages of realization: How COVID-19 changed our semester

CATEGORIES: Student Perspective

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa State University has moved all spring 2020 courses to virtual instruction for the remainder of the semester. Students in Assistant Professor Laura Witzling and Assistant Teaching Professor Beth Haag’s Public Relations Writing (P R 321) courses wrote blog posts about how COVID-19 has affected their lives for the Greenlee School student experience blog. This post has been published with permission. 

headshot of Erin Hanson
Erin Hanson, junior in public relations

By Erin Hanson, junior in public relations 

COVID-19 has brought changes we never could have expected. Through it all, I’ve learned so much about myself, the difficulty of sacrifice and the value of human connection. I hope you have as well. Here’s my experience.

Jokingly saying goodbyes

I think everyone can agree that the last few classes before spring break had a most unusual atmosphere about them. We all felt like something was going to change, but we weren’t fully prepared for our future “new normal.” I had even joked with my classmates and peers saying, “See you in a few weeks, or maybe not!” But the reality of the situation did not fully hit me until we all received the email March 18 informing us those last few classes we’d had would be the last times we would meet with our professors in person, exchange jokes with our classmates and eat lunch on campus with friends this semester. All of a sudden it wasn’t just a regular spring break full of excitement and relaxation. It was goodbye.

Adjusting to the new normal

I am normally a very goal-oriented person. My grades matter a lot to me, and I try to achieve as much as I can at all times. Before this pandemic, I also always considered myself an introvert. I didn’t go out much, and I didn’t hang with friends every night because I valued the special quiet moments I had by myself.

Now, however, I crave human connection more than ever. Unlike many of my friends and classmates, I did not go back to my family home for the rest of the semester. Instead, I have stayed in my apartment in Ames, populated only by me and my boyfriend. These four walls have become what feels like a cramped cage. I felt more alone than ever.

As I waited over spring break for instruction from my professors on what the rest of my semester would look like, a huge sense of uneasiness fell over me and hung around me like a fog. I felt somewhat robbed of an experience. I had made friends in my classes and looked forward to chatting with my peers every day we had class and now all of a sudden that wasn’t even a possibility. I sat in silence all day with my thoughts as my only company. Even my introverted self craved the connections I had relied on for so long.  Only a change of perspective could help me now.

Sacrificing for the greater good

As my professors continued reaching out and explaining their own personal situations, my perspective altered greatly. I only have one class a week in which we meet all together over WebEx. For our first online class, the professor gave us all the opportunity to speak about how we were feeling, what we were struggling with, what we hoped would change and how we were all adjusting. This space to freely talk and simply feel our feelings really changed everything for me. It wasn’t just a singular “woe is me” experience. We were all grieving the loss of experiences, the loss of human connection, the loss of in-person instruction and the loss of momentous occasions we had been dreaming of for a long time.

However, we were grieving these experiences so fewer people would have to grieve over a loved one dying. We are making these sacrifices that seem so big to us at the time but are so small compared to the value of human life. Of course, we are allowed to be frustrated and sad and angry, but we also have a responsibility to the vulnerable in our communities to take these moments of quiet and isolation and use them to protect others.

This is the first time in recent history that pretty much the entire world is shut down.  I have friends in other countries who feel the same way. We are experiencing a global phenomenon that none of us could have ever prepared for. Let’s all take a breath, appreciate what we do have and look forward to the days we can joke and hug and experience things for the first time again. That day will be a breath of fresh air, and I can hardly wait.

Erin Hanson is a junior at Iowa State University studying public relations with minors in women’s and gender studies and world film studies.  In her free time, she enjoys watching her favorite shows and spending time with her pets.