Freshman year: Pack light, ‘just in case’

A student describes her experience moving into a residence hall during the COVID-19 pandemic to move off campus later that semester.


I always imagined what my freshman year of college would look like. 

I daydreamed about stepping foot onto a campus filled with eager students, just like me. A campus with lights beaming through the library windows and friends going out on a Friday night. I could finally be independent and branch out into a new world. 

When I began my college search, I was immediately drawn to the diverse faculty and students and the urban setting of Temple University. I wanted to feel as though I were part of the Philadelphia community. 

After I was accepted to attend, I could hardly wait for my first day to arrive. Little did I know, it wouldn’t be what I’d always dreamed of. 

On March 13, the United States declared a state of emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, I didn’t know what this meant for my academic future. My senior year of high school was cut months short and I had no idea how long online courses would last.

News reporters urged us to quarantine in our households for two weeks, but two weeks soon turned into two months. By the time June rolled around the corner, case numbers were still on the rise. 

During those summer months, it became clear to me that COVID-19 was here for the long run. Yet, I was still set to start my first semester of college and move into my residence hall in August, and I had no idea how to prepare in the middle of a pandemic. 

As I began to gather my belongings for school, I felt so lost. Instead of room decor, I was packing masks and hand sanitizer. My suitcases were supposed to be filled to the brim with new clothes, but instead they were empty because I assumed I would be getting sent home within the first month. 

My parents told me to pack light, “just in case.” I felt discouraged, but agreed to their suggestion.

When the day finally came for me to move in, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Because of social distancing restrictions, we weren’t allowed to have freshman orientation or other typical first-week activities. Instead, my two roommates and I sat at our desks and listened to our resident assistant cover the ground rules on a Zoom meeting. 

My freshman year of college, the year that was supposed to be filled with memories and excitement, was gone.

The first week of school was strenuous and tiring. Staring at my computer and trying to complete my online classes for the day gave me a constant headache. I tried to step outside of my room and get some fresh air, but the empty campus just made me more gloomy. 

Three weeks into the school year, my worst nightmare came true: we were being sent home. Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, it was unsafe to stay on campus. Although we were given the option to stay or go, classes continued to be fully remote, and we were given refunds, so there felt no point in staying. Six thousand dollars for a room in a residence hall with no roommates was too much for my parents to be spending. 

I repacked my bags, even though there wasn’t much to pack, and headed home. Looking out the car window at the beautiful, deserted campus, I felt tears streaming down my face. My freshman year of college, the year that was supposed to be filled with memories and excitement, was gone. 

The next few weeks at home were upsetting to say the least. I was supposed to be enjoying my first semester of college, but instead I was at home with my eyes glued to the computer screen.

But one day, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My parents told me that I could go back to Philadelphia if I got an off campus apartment. I immediately began apartment hunting and searching through Facebook groups to find a roommate. 

After a long while of looking for the right fit, I found a girl that was in the same boat as me. She had left her residence hall in September and was looking to find an off-campus apartment. We immediately clicked and quickly signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment the next day. We were able to move in as soon as possible. 

I was so excited to be back on campus that I hurriedly repacked my bags, for the second time. I urged my parents to drive me down that weekend so I could get settled and experience freedom again. 

My roommate wasn’t moving in for a few weeks, so I had the place to myself for a while. Even though campus still felt empty, it was freeing to be at Temple again. Setting up my bedroom decorations and organizing my kitchen gave me hope.  

But It didn’t take long for me to become lonely again. I didn’t know anyone on campus, and it was hard to reach out to people. 

Then my roommate moved in, and I felt relieved and hopeful. Although large gatherings are still prohibited, I was glad to have someone to talk to and bake late-night sugar cookies with. It felt good to no longer be alone. 

Nights in the apartment weren’t lonesome anymore, and I was excited for the new memories we would make. It felt as though the first few weeks in my residence hall didn’t even happen.

Needless to say, my first semester of college has been a handful. With COVID-19, a long-winded move-in process and an empty campus, I have experienced it all. Although it hasn’t lived up to my fairytale fantasies, I’m looking forward to what my future at Temple has to offer.

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