In mid-August, when I was packing to return to Goshen from my home in Kitchener, Ontario, I was anxious thinking about getting a COVID test and seeing my friends. Leaving home was bittersweet. I had doubts about coming back to Goshen after being gone for 17 months, and I had become comfortable in my routines at home in a city where the COVID-19 case rate was low.

Ontario’s COVID-19 response was different from that of the U.S. We were in lockdown for the better part of a year, and masks were mandatory everywhere. Although I would have been able to cross the border last fall, the thought of returning to the U.S. where COVID-19 was so prevalent was scary. I felt that my experience staying at home would be better. 

And surprisingly, it wasn’t horrible. I didn’t hate being in quarantine or doing classes online. 

The biggest downside to doing my classes remotely was the fact that I couldn’t take any sciences. Being a biochemistry major, this was slightly disappointing, except for the fact that I never once had to get up for an 8 a.m. the entire year! 

I did inquire several times about doing organic chemistry remotely, but alas, I couldn’t do any labs from home. For the classes I was able to take, all my professors were amazing and totally accommodating. Some classes were fully asynchronous, which I actually enjoyed. Others were hybrid, which allowed for some connection with other students. 

I also took some classes that were fully in-person. Those were slightly bizarre in that I was usually the only person, or one of a small handful of students, who were on zoom while the class met in person. I’m sure the in-person students didn’t feel as awkward about answering questions or doing presentations as I felt presenting in front of students I couldn’t even see!

Overall, I didn’t mind the academic side of things. I got to take classes I most likely wouldn’t have taken if I was on campus, I finished all my CORE requirements and even discovered that I’m interested in subjects outside of science! 

However, it’s difficult to feel the presence of a community from a different country. I kept up with my friends and stayed engaged in classes, but it was easy to feel that I really was remote. 

Back to me this past August packing to return: I hadn’t seen any of my college friends, been in someone else’s house without a mask, taken a science class, or been in a group of more than five to ten people in 17 whole months. 

Had my friends changed? Had I changed? Would things be the same as when I left? 

It turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Yes, the fact that people don’t have to wear a mask anywhere in public is still mind-boggling, and I’m still getting used to being around so many people at once and all the time. 

However, the community I left 17 months ago was still here when I returned and welcomed me back warmly.

The time I was away from campus was one of personal growth and quality time with my family and close friends. In retrospect, I don’t regret my decision to stay home. However, since being back on campus, I have loved getting to meet new people, be with my old friends and be involved on campus in ways that I wasn’t in my freshman year.