My COVID College Experience: a Latinx Perspective

white wooden cabinet near bed

By: Angelina Rodriguez

Coming back to campus after a year and a half online was the strangest feeling. It was almost as if I was reliving memories from an old dream I had; like the weirdest case of deja vu. With all the students back on campus, it was a bit overwhelming at first. I’m not sure why but I don’t think I was expecting anyone to come back. Being online made me forget just how many students attend this school and with everyone wearing masks, it left me with this eerie feeling. My COVID college experience has left me waiting for something to go wrong. 

COVID has a lot of us on edge and it’s easy to become pessimistic, read this article on how to live a more positive life.

Reflecting on my First Semester

The end of August 2019 was when I started my Freshman year. The beginning of 2019 was horrible but the year really turned around for me. I graduated high school, I went to some grad parties, I spent some time with my family in Puerto Rico, I started college and I loved it. I’ve always loved school. Back to school shopping has always been my favorite time of the year. Not to mention, I was excited about exploring the major I picked: Psychology. My first semester was an amazing experience. I liked all my professors, I made some new friends, I studied a lot, and it paid off; I did well in all my classes. Leaving for winter break was bittersweet. I had gotten used to living on campus and the independence of it all.

Growing up in a Latinx household, I wasn’t allowed to do much. My dad was strict but he was also busy. In the mornings, he would drop me off at school at 8 then go to work. He wouldn’t finish until 6 in the evening. My brother, cousins, and I all went to the same school when we were young. My grandparents would pick us up after school let out around 3. I never went over to any friends’ houses. I wasn’t allowed to sleep over anywhere, unless it was a family members’ house; even that wasn’t until I was older.

The point is, in college I had experienced a new type of freedom that I had craved for so long. It wasn’t even that I could hang out with my friends without having to ask permission. It was the fact that I had the freedom to make decisions for myself; to decide where I went, what I wanted to do, and when I wanted to go. I got to decide what I wanted to do with my time and how it would most benefit me. 

Family in the Latinx Community

I’ve found that American families and Latinx families interact very differently. I think because of how different family dynamics can be, Americans don’t understand that in being part of a Latinx family, you’re not supposed to think solely of yourself. America is a very individualistic country. Here we’re meant to be all about ourselves. You’re meant to live selfishly: do what’s best for you, care most about yourself, live the way you want to live. Latinx culture is very collectivistic: it’s all about the family. I only applied to colleges in-state because I knew I’d feel guilty for leaving. I ended up going to college an hour away. It would be selfish to go any farther, to leave my family.

Every decision I make, I think of them. Consciously or not, “how will this affect my family” always plays in the back of my mind. When I think about my future, I don’t see myself staying in Philadelphia, where most of my family is, and sometimes I’m overwhelmed with guilt just because of that thought. The way that I’ve been taught to think about it is, my dad has sacrificed so much for me, especially as his oldest kid, and so it will be my turn to make the sacrifices soon. It’s all about family and doing all you can to support them. 

It surprises me when people say they don’t spend time with their family. And even the word family, it’s completely subjective. When I say family you and I could be thinking of two completely different things. When talking about family I don’t just mean my siblings and my dad but my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents too. We spend so much time together and always have. When I was younger I would see them everyday. As we got older, it was less frequent because we grew up and got busy but we still see each other as often as we can. 

Leaving Home Guilt

When I went off to college, even though I was only an hour away, I think my dad had a hard time letting go. He was never a very emotional person so the way he expresses himself is very funny to me sometimes. I got more calls from him my first semester of college more than I have in probably my whole life. Almost every weekend he wanted me to come home and spend time with the family.

He called very often to check in or update me about what was going on at home. His new favorite phrase was, “did you forget you have a dad.” Not in a snarky way but jokingly and in a way I knew he missed me. I don’t think he was consciously trying to make me feel feel guilty but that was definitely the subtext. I think not knowing what I was doing stressed him out sometimes. I’m the oldest and the only girl but I’ve always been independent and I think he expects a lot from me. 

When I came back from winter break for my second semester of college I was so excited. I missed my dorm. Even though I had a roommate I still had my own space, something I didn’t have growing up. The semester was going well. I went back to the routine that worked well for me my first semester and I was liking all my classes. And then spring break came. 

The Spring Break We Never Came Back From

I remember the week we were getting ready to go home for spring break, everyone was talking about “corona.” At the time, it was made to be a joke. Nobody was taking it seriously and it felt very much like when the Ebola outbreak happened: you hear a lot about it but never have an experience with it. And then we all went home.

While I was home, we started hearing about increasing cases and how spreadable the virus was. Then, I received an email from the President of West Chester University saying the break would be extended by two weeks due to a rise in cases; keeping the students safe was priority. During those two weeks cases started piling up and they were getting closer and closer to home. Eventually we got our first case in Philly and then I got another email; we were going to go online. And thus, the two weeks became almost two years.  

The Lost Year

Essentially losing my sophomore year was rough. I feel like sophomore year is the year to try everything like studying abroad or being on the executive board for a club. Junior year is when you have to start preparing for graduation and look for internships, there’s no more room to waste time. Not to mention you actually have to know what you want to do with your life before you can actually plan for it.

Online learning was a horrible experience for me. With everyone in the house all the time, it really took a toll on my sanity. I never had anywhere quiet to zoom, study, or finish assignments. Constantly being surrounded by my family took me back a few years and I lost the sense of independence I had when it was just me at college. It wasn’t just about me anymore. I had to take care of my siblings, clean up after everyone, make sure they ate and did their school work. 2020 was honestly the lost year for me and thinking about it makes it seem like it’s so far away from where I am now. 

If you’re struggling with your mental health this semester, read this article that looks at the help provided for you here at WCU.

This academic year I’m just hoping to work hard, stay healthy and on campus, and to actually come back from the breaks we have. That would be nice.