I’m starting college during a pandemic. Weirdly, I miss strangers most.

Photo of Isabel Funk.

Isabel Funk; Mercer Island, WA

My last day of school was March 12. I got up at the same time I always did. I drove to school. I went to all my classes. I ate lunch with the newspaper staff. There was a strange energy in the air, like the last day of school when there’s nothing left to do, but we were still several months from summer. My parents were taking the pandemic seriously, so I knew I wouldn’t see my friends much over the next six weeks—after which the school told us we would return.

I sobbed my way through my last volleyball practice full of goodbyes to my teammates and coach. My parents had told me I was done with the season. Looking back on it, I’m thankful they did because I got to say my goodbyes. Everyone else left with the promise of seeing each other again next week, only to have the rest of the season snatched away unexpectedly. At least I had my warning. I went in knowing it was my last.

That was the only thing I knew would be my last. I didn’t know that I would never have another class in my high school, and I didn’t know that my graduation would be in a parking lot. I didn’t say goodbye to my teachers, or to those friends that I talked to in school but never in the rest of my life. Now six and a half months into life at home, I don’t miss the things I thought I would.

Of course, I miss my friends, who I’ve only seen a handful of times throughout the summer. Of course, I miss going out without a constant anxiety sitting in my stomach. I miss all the normal things. I was dismayed to lose the end of high school: the big graduation and all the other traditions we didn’t experience and won’t ever make up. 

The week before I was supposed to leave for Northwestern University, when the school announced that all first and second-years would begin remotely, I mourned the loss of my first quarter of college and the experiences I should have had. 

I still mourn it, and I struggle daily with the challenges of finding community remotely. 

This loss is still raw and painful. There are still some days that I spend despondent and disheartened. I spent the summer thinking that even though I had lost the end of my senior year, and, even though I was stuck inside for months on end, at least I had school to look forward to, at least in September I would move to campus and build a new community, new memories. Now all I have are fears about forming connections virtually and finding my place at Northwestern.

I am grappling with the pandemic that radically changed the ending of my high school experience and the start of my college experience. But I miss strangers most. 

When life was regular, I could go out anywhere and catch a snippet of conversation between two people I didn’t know, and, for that second, I got a glimpse of their lives. I could make casual conversation with someone while waiting in a line. I could accidentally bump into strangers on public transportation. I was a passerby in so many strangers’ lives—a background character.

When my home became my world, it became lonely and small. I lost the minute interactions with other people that made the world feel rich and vast, full of stories and life. Now I feel like I’m watching the world through a window, like I’m reading about some other place, watching life on television. Everything that is happening in the world feels separate from our lives, the world outside my house feels like a different world to the one in which I live. It’s isolating. 

When I could go out whenever I wanted (without a mask), and just exist in the outside world, I was reminded of how many other individuals are living their lives, going about their business, completely separate from my own journey through the world. Living through Zoom could never make up for those moments that make up life, the little human moments that are completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things but, for just a second, I feel a connection with someone I just met, someone whose name I don’t even know, and we share a smile. And then I never see them again.

The pandemic robbed us of our ability to exist in the world, to feel human, to feel a bond to everyone in the world—people we’ve never met—simply because we are all human.

2 thoughts on “I’m starting college during a pandemic. Weirdly, I miss strangers most.

  1. we were all ripped off by the pandemic. This has never happened in our history – being locked down, wearing masks in public, being told your job is not essential, etc. Anyone who graduated in 2020 got ripped off big time. Saying goodbye or endings are never pleasant. Remote learning versus on location learning are totally different. Hang in there – this will soon all be a bad memory. Maybe not as soon as we’d like but it will happen. 🙂


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