Not only was the spring semester of my junior year cut short, but due to the global pandemic, my semester studying abroad came to a premature end as well. Studying with the Colgate London History Study Group with Professor Rotter, Professor Kaimal and a group of other enthusiastic history students, we prepared to write research papers–basically our thesis papers–using archival materials of our choice. We took classes Monday through Wednesday, then had the rest of the week to ourselves. This time was meant for us to journey to our archives and do research. Despite the stereotypes of students abroad taking it easy when it comes to rules and responsibilities, I did do my research.
I managed to get into a routine. I became friends with the head security guard at the Victoria and Albert Blythe House archives, who would jokingly ask me how I was enjoying the sharp winds of England, which he knew I hated. The archivists started to recognize my face every Thursday and Friday, and once they found out that I, too, worked in the archives as a Special Collections assistant, they amusingly shared how much they actually hated grabbing my materials from a particular collection, since they were on the top shelves. My buddy George, owner of George’s Cafe in West Kensington, would start to make me a latte as soon as I walked in the door for lunch. I went there every time I went to the archives, mostly out of a small sense of loyalty to the cafe owner who would bring me my meal and ask me about the strange world that is America.
My weeks were marked by these routines. Tuesdays felt busy, between our class walking tours and our weekly theater dates, but they were made fun by finding a place for dinner and drinks beforehand. There were Wednesday lunches at Ole & Steen up on Tottenham Court between classes, where a friend and I would grab a chicken roll (they were strangely one of the best sandwiches I’ve had) and a chocolate croissant. The weekends were for exploring the city, or accidentally walking through the lesser known areas to get to Trafalgar Square because we didn’t know where we were. Sunday nights meant movie nights together with my flatmates, but the mornings and afternoons would be spent at the Waterstones’ cafe on Gower Street to get a cup of coffee and do homework. It could be a bland routine, but it was my routine. I truly became a Londoner in finding my place at Waterstones, in learning to haggle at Camden Market, in falling in love with the city on days with cold sunshine and days with sharp winds and sideways rain through the smell of cigarette smoke and street vendors.
It’s one of the most satisfying adventures on which I’ve been able to go. I’d never been to Europe, much less left the North American continent, before this past January. This was supposed to be the time I’d finally get to explore this whole side of the world I’d only ever dreamed of seeing (and I did see Paris, luckily). I unfortunately had some plans cut short, and now I’m home.
Well, not quite home. By the time you read this, it’ll be my tenth day in quarantine at my grandparents’ farm house in Oswego, New York. No, they are not here with me. This farm house is typically only open in the summer, but it was opened up for me to come home. I was adamant about making the safest choices possible for my family in the 48 hours I was given on a Saturday night at my professor’s flat when we were told we had to go home. When I managed to book a ticket home for Monday. I knew I would have 14 days of self-quarantine awaiting me, 14 days of not knowing if I was about to put my family in danger if I came home. My parents are both very healthy and active people, and my younger sisters are both about my age. They’d be able to handle an illness. But why risk putting them in any possible danger? I couldn’t be in the same house as them if this was an option for me. I knew it meant being completely on my own, alone, for 14 days. That was going to hurt a bit, but I didn’t care. I’d do it for them, as I knew they would for me. So, Monday night I landed in Syracuse, had my mother throw my car keys to me from a safe distance as I grabbed my oversized luggage, and drove myself to Oswego around one in the morning to begin my stay. My family had stocked up the fridge, brought books and art supplies for me to busy myself with, and made sure I was going to be comfortable. Thus, my solitary self-quarantine began.
Quarantine has made me realize what an extrovert I have become since I first began this growth entering Colgate. I came out of my introverted shell, in the care of the right people and right clubs and activities, and I bloomed. I love being around people, especially my people. My fall semester wasn’t perfect, as a lot of my friends had gone abroad the opposite semester. But I had people. And now, to have everyone taken away? That really kills me. It truly eats me alive to not be even in the presence of other people. I can talk to my family and friends through a screen. But a screen is a screen. It’s a little cold and distant, and it’s not human. And I miss human contact. I think we all forget that technology cannot replace true human connection. To have someone hold you, or to talk with someone beside you on a couch or walking somewhere, or even to just be in the presence of someone else. We need people, as much as we try to deny this fact at times. People cannot exist without other people, as to spread love and kindness. And I think the world needs a little love and kindness currently.
I’ve been keeping busy, though. Working with my hands keeps my mind occupied, so I’ve been working on school work, and doing some painting. Luckily, the property the farm is situated on has a small hiking trail into the woods, so on the nicer days I’ll put on my face mask and go for a walk. One day, even my mother drove up and came out with me, walking a couple feet in front of me to talk. When I’m deep enough in the woods and there’s no one around, I finally let myself have a minute to take the mask off and breathe freely. That’s my satisfaction.
I have no idea when this whole thing is going to end. I hold onto the belief that summer will come, and that I will still have my research internship, and that me and my beloved Hyundai will travel around the east coast to finally see those friends of mine I’ve gone about a year without seeing. That August will roll around, and I will move into an off-campus apartment with one of my best friends, and we will have Sunday brunches and gather with friends at Good Nature to celebrate our return and our togetherness and that things will be normal. But things will not be normal ever again. We are all going to be a little changed by this in some way, whether it’s a heightened sense of caution, in a little bit more love we show people or just being a little more grateful to walk outside without a face mask. Maybe that’s one good thing we’ll get out of this.
I remain hopeful knowing that I will be with my family again in four day’s time. I will see my friends again. We check in on each other daily, and we’re setting up a night of Zoom Monopoly or some game night we can have together. They aren’t going away that easily, and I cannot wait to have them all in my arms again. I think that love is what gives me hope for that future, and maybe everyone’s future. That people are good at their core, and that we all hold a little love for each other. That love will keep us together in dark times, even if that means staying away from the people you care about. That love means looking out for the rest of humanity, in hopes that we’ll be able to give those people we love a chance at normalcy again. Love gives me hope for the end of this time to come, and that love will keep the world turning in the meantime.