Two years ago, when I first tugged open the heavy wooden door to my tiny dorm room a whole four-hour drive away from my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I took a deep breath and thought, “Finally, I’m free.”
When the pandemic pushed the school virtual in March and I realized I had no choice but to leave campus and move back in with my parents, I was devastated.
And yet, returning home was not the only thing that changed for me.
In 2018, I started college at Robert Morris University, a small private school that sits in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Longing for the lively atmosphere of a large urban campus, I decided to transfer to Temple University beginning in the Fall 2020 semester.
Since switching to Temple, I have managed to find a few new friends, and most of my professors have been encouraging and wonderfully considerate. Regardless, attending college while living at home has been nothing short of lonesome.
Although my parents, who are both well-intentioned but pragmatic to a fault, gladly welcomed me home, I was nervous that moving back in with them after being on my own for nearly two years would strain our relationship, especially since my younger sister’s school was also virtual.
I did want to live on campus after transferring to Temple, but I knew that, at least financially, staying with my parents for the time being would be the more responsible choice.
Even though I was aware that living with my parents would mean spending the overwhelming majority of my time at home due to their underlying health conditions giving them an increased risk for COVID-19, nothing could have fully prepared me for the sacrifices I would have to make.
In May, I left a job I loved to keep myself and my family safe. Since then, I have only stepped inside of a handful of grocery stores for absolute necessities, and I haven’t seen any of my friends in nearly nine months.
I miss the independence and freedom that came with living on my own, but, despite my initial anxieties, moving back in with my family has been a more rewarding experience than I expected.
My mom is a small business owner and, like many entrepreneurs, spends the majority of her day at work. Growing up, I rarely saw her outside of her job. And even though I now understand that my mom’s ceaseless work ethic gave our family financial stability, I often found myself missing her company as a child.
My mom’s business has certainly suffered because of the pandemic. Indoor gathering restrictions have made it more difficult to purchase merchandise, and even though my mom was fortunate enough to receive a financial grant from the CARES Act, her business is still recovering from the financial crisis from the beginning of the pandemic.
Despite her business troubles, my mom is the one who has always held my family together, and that much hasn’t changed. Seeing her struggle in the recent months has been difficult, and so the rest of my family and I have tried to help in any way we can, by taking on extra responsibilities around the house or just listening to her frustrations. And by coming together to support my mom, our family has grown closer.
I’ve seen the most drastic difference in my relationship with my sister. Growing up, we were never particularly close, but now that we’ve spent the past eight months with only each other to turn to, we’ve been able to foster a real friendship, something I will always be grateful for.
I still look forward to the day when it is safe for all students to return to campus. My introduction to life as a Temple student has been a bit unorthodox, considering I have yet to see the inside of a campus building, nor have I ever rushed to grab a sandwich from the infamous Richie’s Sandwich Shop while running late to class.
I might not yet be a seasoned Temple student, but I am excited to see the things my future holds.
I know that I won’t be living at home and attending classes online forever, and in the meantime, I will try to continue making the most of my situation. With so many Americans facing evictions and unemployment because of this pandemic, I am more grateful now than ever for having easy access to food and housing.
Temple will wait for me, and until I can safely be on campus in person, I will continue to cherish the time I have to spend with my family, for better or worse.