Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, how and where we spend our time has been a national conversation and collective experience. Our work, academic, and leisure environments have all been impacted by the pandemic. Members of the diverse USM community have adapted to these changes, finding new ways of living that enable them to make the most of their situations.
Before COVID-19, Samantha Comeau, a senior track and field athlete from Minnesota, had the “chaotic, go-go-go” schedule one might assume a working student-athlete to have. Arriving at the campus at 7 am for classes and practices and then working a waiting job, Comeau’s days were bustling. Last semester things were different; her classes were online and practice was more “sporadic.” With all of the time spent at home, Comeau found that getting out of the house helped her get more headspace. She frequented coffee shops, on-campus Zoom rooms with friends, and especially the Glickman Library. This semester looks more normal to Comeau, with her classes mostly in-person and practices and competition more regular. Even as things change, places like the library continue to be a retreat for focused study.
Matt Keith, a junior art major from Maine, started at USM last spring semester and had his USM experience suddenly change come March. In the first half of the semester, Keith lived in an apartment close to the Portland campus and had a “solid schedule,” taking the bus to class and working at a comic book shop in Portland. When access to on-campus studio spaces suddenly closed, Keith found himself doing his artwork and assignments mostly in his apartment. The shrink in his workspace was a drastic change from the traditional studio spaces offered at USM. Especially since his mediums like photography require a lot of space. Further complicating things, Keith’s apartment was where he relaxed and spent his free time. Having to live and work in the same area made it difficult to relax. This changed environment also gave Keith a heightened appreciation for certain parts of his days. He grew to enjoy doing artwork outside and found his french class’ Zoom study groups to be a great way to interact with classmates.
Cailyn Burke, a media studies major with a concentration in journalistic writing, joined USM last semester after completing an associates’ degree from SMCC. As a “hands-on” person, Burke was excited to get to use SMC’s vast equipment resources. But, having most of her classes online last semester made her learning experience “disappointing.” She says that in-person interactions are vital to her growth as a student, and allow her to gain new perspectives. Without them, the fall semester turned out to be less than she was hoping for.
The other central part of Burke’s life, her job, also changed dramatically. Balancing school and work, Burke loved working at Banded Brewing Co., where she has been a bartender since mid-2019. Burke relished the family-friendly and community-centered environment at Banded, finding serving customers extremely rewarding. Yet, like her classes, the nature of her job changed drastically amid new restrictions. With Branded closed to in-house clients, Burke’s hours were suddenly filled with packing food orders. The change to working in a space that would normally be filled with happy people was disappointing. On top of that, she says that there was always the lingering fear of getting laid off. In May, Branded was able to reopen for table service, and, while space isn’t designed to be a restaurant, Burke makes the most of the interactions she has with patrons.
Burke seems to have a constructive mindset going forward. She says that the year has been hard, but characterizes it as a time of learning. An advocate for physical activity, she began running every day during the pandemic and finds that it clears her head. Earlier in the pandemic, she also took on hiking and camping as a way to socialize amid restrictions. In wanting to safely spend time together, camping became a go-to activity for her and her friends. In the house, even the time she had to spend online has helped her establish rewarding skills. She says that over the past year she has gotten a lot better at interacting on social media, having been hesitant with social platforms before. The push to on-line has allowed her to connect more regularly with friends abroad in places like Germany and Mexico.
As life begins to look more normal for USM students, some skills we have been forced to adapt may stick around. In years to come, pandemic-era habits that enrich our lives as students and beyond may stick around. Life is always changing, and sometimes great changes help us discover things we would never have before.