Mid-March sought to disrupt my daily routine.
I saw my familiar settings rapidly replaced — lecture halls turned into my childhood bedroom, to-go cups of coffee became homemade drip and the campus Wi-Fi was substituted by the even more unreliable network of my family house.
While I counted it as a blessing to be able to continue my courses from the comfort of my parents’ home in San Diego, I slipped into a state of disillusion and dissociation.
It began when my friend and I traced California’s spine on the long haul home, as green fields sprouting crops stretched out toward the horizon line, and mountains seemed to forever frame Interstate 5.
The monotony followed me through the front door of my parents’ home, refusing to let go. It pulled me further from a reality that seemed so far away, especially as world news and domestic politics invoked anxiety and deprivation. I selfishly yearned for my old schedule, refusing to accept the new, slow pace of my time at home.
I used to find a twisted sense of joy from dashing across campus on my rickety Schwinn traveler bike, my forehead beginning to perspire as I stepped into Wheeler Hall. My stress levels would indeed rise when slammed with a rush hour at my job as a barista at Yali’s, but I took it in stride.
It was if, at home, I was moving in slow motion. I would inattentively absorb Zoom lectures at my desk, before standing up and retreating back to the lowered twin bunk bed that I’ve had since age five.
At the dinner table, my mum would ask me to pass her a napkin and it took my glazed-over eyes a brief second to process the most mundane request. My head was elsewhere, specifically in professor Gillian Hart’s class, trying to comprehend the day’s lecture on revisionist neoliberalism.
The constant pauses in my critical thinking — or what was left of it after so much screen time — became so baffling that at times I would be staring blankly at my parents. This heightened when I was asked the ever-dreaded question: What did you learn in school today?
For what was my response to be? An in-depth analysis of Burkina Faso’s migratory labor reservoirs, or simply reverting back to my uncivil high school response of “Oh you know, stuff.”
But alas, the innocent question usually unraveled into a tête-à-tête against my various family members. My father challenged my knowledge of global history, my mother showed up my shoddy French, all in light spirits but still a challenge.
Attacked from all angles, my bedroom offered a reprieve from the tensions that would naturally arise from the strong personalities housed in our home. Even if it meant logging onto Zoom, I felt grateful for the escape.
Looking back on my time at home, my stubbornness to accept my situation showed in my attitude and anger. I was under the firm belief that I needed the physical space of university, in all its prestige and glory, to exist in an intellectual mindset.
Intellectual stimulus may be invoked by the physical space of a campus, but true mental capacity comes from the ability to adapt. I had to think of how to respect the efforts of my professors, and take advantage of my position and privilege.
Adaptability took many forms during my stint at home. I allowed myself to find joy in the small, albeit slow-paced, movements of each day. Whether it was changing up my work location around the house or becoming more open to chat with my parents about classes, my gratitude grew.
I welcomed the fact that my two worlds, home and university, could coexist. I could view my parents as people, also hungry for the growth that comes from intellectual challenge. Sharing part of my own life with my family opened up our relationship into a new threshold.
As I stopped separating my university life from my parents’ home, the physical distance allowed for internal emotional union. It was the solution to my sorry state of limbo, torn between two physical and mental headspaces.
Come fall semester, I acknowledge that I am lucky to receive my education regardless of physical location. A university experience, albeit in a less conventional space this year, is up for redefinition — and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. This semester may be uncertain in many aspects, but it offers an opportunity to rethink how we perceive our education.
After I trekked back to Berkeley in early June, I thought I was rushing toward the open space of individual freedom. However, I now find myself missing my parents’ curiosity about my own life and studies — in addition to the sliced fruit left outside my room that acted as olive branches along the way.