With colleges and universities closed to stop the spread of COVID-19, many students are taking classes online from their homes. But some couldn’t return, either because of travel restrictions or other circumstances.
The Gazette spoke to two such students, one from the University at Albany and one from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, over videocall.
The Daily Gazette: Let’s start by introducing ourselves. Where are you from, and what do you study?
Kat Ramos: I’m a pre-med junior at UAlbany, I study biology and I’m an EMT for Five Quad [UAlbany’s volunteer ambulance service]. I’ve lived all across the Ulster and Orange County area, but in general always within fifteen minutes of 9W.
George Pang: I go to RPI, and I’m from the southern part of China, in Zhongshan. I’m a mechanical engineering major, and a sophomore.
DG: Why are you staying in your dorm while most other students have packed up and left?
KR: Albany is my only home. I could go back to my parent’s house, but it’s very small. They don’t have space for me; I don’t have a bed. And both are severely immunocompromised, so if I were to get sick, they would die, pretty much.
GP: I can’t leave the U.S. and return to China. If I go back to China right now, they’re going to put me in a quarantine place for 14 days. The other concern is about my visa; technically, I cannot leave the states for more than five months -- that’s part of the regular restrictions on F-1 visas.
DG: Your schools have let you stay in your dorms for a couple weeks now. What does a typical day look like?
KR: The days are just slipping by at this point. Monday, I woke up at 7 a.m.; showered; made myself a cup of coffee; listened to NPR; then I went on Zoom for physics lecture; then I watched TikTok for a little bit after that. Then I took an immunology test over Zoom.
GP: It’s pretty boring. I get up at 9 a.m., then I attend my first lecture at 10 a.m. Only one of my classes has a section where you have to be online at that time; for other courses, we have recorded lectures. I only go outside for a run. I run a couple miles, but not every day.
KR: I went for a walk across campus and it was dead. I remembered two weeks ago I went on a similar walk after an exam, and there were so many people around, people were podiating [hanging out on the podium at the center of campus], music was being played, lots of life. Today I saw more dogs being walked than people alone. Dogs are living it up right now.
DG: How have you been getting food these past weeks?
GH: RPI has meals delivered to the residence halls for those people staying on campus. For breakfast it’s basically a bag with continental breakfast, like an egg, a muffin, juice. RPI didn’t start delivering until this Monday, so before they started, I always ordered takeout.
KR: We were told we shouldn’t leave campus, because by leaving campus we’re putting our own campus community at risk. To get groceries we were told to reach out to someone to see what the school can get for us, or to do InstaCart, Walmart Delivery or something like that. I’ve just been eating stuff I already had.
DG: Who do you talk to during the week? Is it in real life or over text/video?
KR: I’ll talk to people when I see them moving out of my building. I’ll be like “Hey, it was nice being your housing manager, good luck! Don’t die!” I usually FaceTime a few of my friends right before our Zoom class.
GP: Before all this craziness, my parents and I videocalled each other once a week on Friday. But now because I’m living alone, they want to talk to me every day. If I don’t talk to my parents, honestly the only people I’d talk to is my engineering design team. I don’t want to go outside, and I don’t play video games. I’m typically busy with my schoolwork. So yeah, I don’t talk to many people.
KR: My dad texts me every few days asking how I’m doing, just making sure I’m not losing my sanity, and I call my brother almost every day.
DG: How has living alone on campus been impacting your mental or physical health?
KR: I’m stressed as to what I’m supposed to do after my semester ends. Where am I going to go? Do I need an apartment? There’s a lot of uncertainty in that. Last week I was stressing a lot and kind of had a mental break because all my plans were falling apart. This week I’ve kind of accepted to ride the wave of uncertainty and just cross my fingers that everything works out.
GH: Dealing with loneliness is quite the main thing. Before this week started, I actually stayed up late every night and went to bed at 4 a.m. because I didn’t want to sleep. Last week I was more anxious, and that affected my state a bit. My parents were also anxious, because they were in China, and they had just been in quarantine for 2 months. They’ve been through what we are going through right now, and they are worried because I am alone here, and they can’t do anything for me.
DG: What’s your go-to activity when you get really bored?
KR: I watch Tik Tok. If I’m really bored, I go on a walk, but if I don’t want to go on a walk, I just FaceTime a bunch of people while drinking wine.
GP: Honestly, I go to bed.
KR: Yeah, if I can sleep more of the day away, then I have less hours of the day to stress.
DG: Is this experience teaching you any big lessons?
KR: Before, I was a very busy person. I had an Outlook calendar where pretty much every hour of my day planned out. I would complain to my friends about how I wanted to relax and just stay home for a day. Now that’s happened for two weeks, and I’m like, please just give me my life back!
GP: I would say I learned to get prepared for all kinds of situations, and always pay attention to the news and make plans accordingly. I have to think more about a couple months coming up; I need to make a plan for May when the semester ends and I am no longer able to stay in my dorm.
DG: What’s one thing you’re looking forward to doing once everyone is out of quarantine?
KR: Hug all of my friends. I think I’ll just have a large social gathering with my friends where we just hug each other and tell each other our quarantine stories.
GP: I would say just go to so many places and see other people. I just don’t want to stay in my dorm anymore. Supposedly on my spring break I was going to Mexico with a friend, but I cancelled my trip because of the fear of coronavirus. I want to make up that trip.