Coping with COVID-19: U-M students share their ‘new normal’

Michigan News

For students, this month with COVID-19 has been framed with uncertainty and stress. Seniors rushed goodbyes, underclassmen quickly vacated dorms, and many found themselves back at home only a few days after spring break. In the middle of this has been the immense university-wide effort to make coursework accessible, engaging and accommodating, a sign of the university’s ability to adapt even in the most turbulent times. 

While students say adjusting to coursework online and this “new normal” has been an ongoing challenge, pockets of positivity and optimism have emerged, illuminating now more than ever their support of each other, and faculty commitment to their education. 

Here are eight stories from U-M students reflecting on their experiences during this recent transition:

Eric Payerle, junior, Ford School of Public Policy

Picture of a laptop with stickers on it
Eric’s new working station

“While it’s been difficult to spend much of the day at my desk transitioning from video calls and lectures to plugging away at papers and assignments on my laptop — all while my bed sits two feet away — the professors and faculty have brought good humor to this unpredictable experience. One professor noted we’d inevitably see his children running through the background of his lectures at some point; another, while streaming from her children’s closet, proudly displayed her passion for environmental economics by wearing a Severin Borenstein t-shirt, depicting the face of the UC-Berkeley professor of business administration and public policy, one of the authors we had read in the class.

“My family has also found new uses for video conferencing: Euchre. We’ve always played our favorite card game when we’re all home but now, while stuck inside and spread across three different time zones, we’ve moved our game online, and still kept the usual yelling and complaints. Whether it’s new ways of interacting with my family, new ways of relating to our professors, or a host of positive emails from the Ford School dean, this shared experience has given a new perspective to our relationships with our professors and faculty.”

Shannon Habba, biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience senior, College of Literature, Arts & Sciences

“From football games to spring break, college seniors look forward to celebrating ‘lasts’ surrounded by our best friends, in a community that has become home over the past few years. While this isn’t the end of our college career we imagined, I am determined to focus on the silver lining: I am so thankful to be able to continue my education, to maintain friendships (virtually), and to know that all of these measures taken are for the safety of everyone in our world. On the bright side, I can actually make it to my 9 a.m. class on Blue Jeans, without needing to leave my bed! 

Friends Delina Kamposh, Klara Kamposh, Christopher Oshana, Christopher Hamama, Shannon Habba and Sesilia Kammo chat over Google Hangout.

“As much as I miss being with my friends, we’ve been able to keep in touch with constant Facetimes and scheduled Google Hangouts when we want to coordinate with more people in different time zones. We are even able to watch movies together, virtually, thanks to the Netflix watch-party extension. If there is anything that I’ve learned from my time at the University of Michigan, it’s that opportunities are everywhere, whether you need to look for them or create them yourself. I have found comfort in being able to help our health care workers on the front lines against COVID-19, working as a pharmacy technician at CVS and volunteering to make face masks for our doctors and nurses as the need for PPE rises.”

Muriel Steinke, art & design sophomore, Stamps School of Art & Design

Muriel’s art supplies

“As an art student who is perpetually frustrated when assignments don’t allow me to fully explore my most ambitious ideas, the downtime in light of recent events was something I was actually looking forward to filling with personal projects. In my mind, I pictured myself painting or drawing every day and feeling creatively refreshed. I brought my easel out of hiding and dug out all of my paint. I braced myself for a flood of quarantine-induced inspiration that would surely serve as a catalyst for my greatest work yet.

“This has not happened. I am not painting or drawing. I am, in fact, complaining and eating a lot of chips. I’ve already rewatched all of ‘Fleabag,’ and I call my friends and talk about nothing for two hours every day. My mom and I are trying to watch all of the Bond movies. I’m halfway through the second ‘Harry Potter’ book. But — I honestly feel okay about it. It’s true I’m not creating a magnum opus, but I’m fine, and I keep laughing at myself, which is just about all one could hope for at a time like this.”

Jared Pavlick, biomedical engineering freshman, School of Engineering

“Transitioning to all online classes has been a bit of a struggle. Since coming home, having online classes makes it tempting for me to sleep in, skip class to hang out with my brothers, check my phone when I’m watching a lecture, or forgo a discussion for a Youtube video. 

Jared’s new study set up

“Yet, there are aspects of the shutdown that have been nice. It has allowed me to be with my family for the longest period of time since I have gone off for college. My brothers and I have found that the best way for us to stay sane is to play basketball. Every day we cycle through every pairing of teams, seeing who can win the most games. After playing basketball every day during this quarantine, I am just waiting to get a call from Juwan Howard asking when I can start playing for the team. Although this transition has not been easy, there are definitely silver linings to the whole situation.”

Alex Mullen, film, TV & media senior, College of Literature, Arts & Sciences

“One of the major disruptions this outbreak has caused is that I was forced to shut down the independent film project that I was working on all semester long. The project, intended to be a sort of senior thesis, required about a month-and-a-half’s worth of pre-production and was only about ¼ of the way finished with principal photography before classes moved online.

Alex’s kitchen, part of the inspiration for his new film

“Despite not being able to finish a project I kept close to my heart, this time has given me the opportunity to focus on smaller projects that I never would have thought of creating, like essay films. Spending so much time at home has reminded me of some of the things I love about my childhood house and the things about my house that make it home for me. I’ve decided to create an essay film that focuses on those feelings and all of the memories I’ve made here.

“While the change to remote classes online has been challenging, so far my professors have been very accommodating. Only one of my classes, a seminar of six people, has required synchronous class attendance, and that was a decision made by the students due to the discussion-based nature of the class. A wholesome moment I got out of this experience was the opportunity to get introduced to one of my professor’s one-year-old twin cats (very cute cats, I might add). 

“To keep myself motivated, I’ve also started doing fitness challenges with friends — running a mile every day, doing 100 squats and calf raises, and more to make sure we stay in shape and motivate each other throughout our time spent inside. Although the end of my senior year has been more tumultuous than I ever could have expected, I’m excited for the time to try new things and continue to grow as a student and person.”

Anita Michaud, organizational studies & History of Art junior, College of Literature, Arts & Sciences

One of Anita’s recent breakfast creations

“Like many other students, my transition to online classes and adjusting to the new normal of working and learning from home has not been without difficulty. Most of my classes this semester are small, and I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and professor in an intimate setting. Unfortunately, that environment is not easy to replicate virtually, but I think given the circumstances, my professors are doing the best they can. For example, my professor for the history of art class has maintained regular meeting times and has even offered to help students get to the grocery store if they don’t have a car on campus! 

“Finding a routine and pockets of normalcy in abnormal times has been instrumental in staying on top of my coursework and extracurricular activities. I’m the business manager of The Michigan Daily, so I’ve been working closely with the student staff to coordinate regular check-in meetings throughout the semester. Now that I’m home all the time and have significantly more free time, I have the opportunity to cook and catch up on other hobbies I enjoy but don’t normally have the time to do! It’s been fun experimenting with new dishes and trying to replicate some of my favorite meals from Ann Arbor restaurants at home. Some of my favorite meals so far have been lentil soups, chili, and stir fry dishes.”

Anna Biberstein, freshman, School of Nursing

Anna going for a social distanced walk with her grandma and mom. 

“As a freshman nursing student, I understand the importance of staying focused, especially in my nursing classes like Anatomy and Physiology — after all, I wouldn’t trust a nursing student who doesn’t know how the body works or where the femur is. 

“This crisis is frightening, but when I look at all of the nurses and other healthcare workers boldly doing their part to care for those impacted by this disease, I am all the more proud of the profession I have chosen. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling bad for yourself, but I have been trying to focus on the good that is coming out of this situation instead — finally convincing my parents to get a puppy after 19 years, quality time spent with my family, and doing my best to make sure that my grandma doesn’t feel lonely during this time. 

Anna’s new puppy!

“My professors have been more than helpful and understanding throughout the whole transition; it’s amazing how they have used creativity and technology to adapt. In my Happiness and Health class, for example, my professor asked us to grab some chocolate for a practice in “savoring” — who would have thought that I’d be having a spiritual experience with a Hershey’s bar over Blue Jeans? Not that I’m complaining.”

Caitlin Shyuu, microbiology senior, College of Literature, Arts and Sciences

“When classes switched over to being remote, I had trouble adjusting, not because of the actual switch itself but because of my lack of motivation that followed. Classes being moved online meant my friends slowly started leaving Ann Arbor, and that I would stop seeing the familiar faces that I have been interacting with for four years straight. Graduation being canceled meant that I would not get the opportunity to show my parents, who live in Taiwan and don’t get the chance to visit me on campus, the buildings where my best and worst classes were held, or take them to my go-to restaurants on the weekends. 

“But through the ongoing experience, I’m learning to see things from a positive light. Learning that my friends and family are just a call away brings a steady stream of communication, which in turn gives support, encouragement, and motivation. Having to say our goodbyes so suddenly sucks, but it’s important to keep in mind that we are all in this together…and to the class of 2020: I’m proud of all of us.” 

 (Left to right) Kate Lytchakov, Devin Raymond, Caitlin Shyuu, and Nicole Wozniak

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