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What it’s like to leave Stanford as a frosh amid COVID-19

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Last week, I imagined that I would be listening to “Airplane Noise for Homework” from Spotify on loop while studying at Arrillaga Late Night at 2:30 a.m. for my CS 106A: “Programming Methodology” final. I didn’t know that I would actually be listening to real-life airplane noises while typing this out.

Freshman year was just starting to come together. Winter quarter was finally ending (after what seems like a long and dreadful 9 weeks), and spring quarter was going to be the best experience of freshman year: beautiful weather, time to socialize and interesting classes. I was excited to take PSYC 135: “Sleep and Dreams” and MUSIC 25: “Decoding Anime.” I wanted to stay up til 4 a.m. with my friends, spending hours scrolling through the Adidas website and laughing at all the ridiculous shoe designs. I looked forward to spontaneous Zipcar adventures to San Francisco Chinatown just to buy those delicious pork buns from the little bakery on the street.

That isn’t what’s happening, (yet?) though. Stanford advised us to leave campus, go back to our homes and only stay on campus if we feel it is needed. Stanford isn’t certain when classes will resume in-person. Until then, most students will be taking classes online. 

For a lot of us, Stanford was only just becoming something that we could call “home.” For me, personally, I was recently starting to feel this way. The pieces were starting to fall in place; I was comfortable with life. In the beginning, life felt anticipatory: every small detail had to be processed with all my ability. Somehow, as all the hecticness magically started to dissolve into inspirations and motivations, I started to feel like I had the capability to do it.

It feels like we’ve come to the end of the greatest summer camp of our lives. We’re all leaving each other, and we don’t know when we’ll see each other again. A lot of us are going home to our families, our friends from other universities and people we don’t get to see as often.

I worry about my friends at Stanford who can’t go back to their homes, or don’t have a home to go back to. I wish I could exist with everyone that I love, all in one place at one time. And no one would be scared, worried about their futures, and on edge about every little update the school sends out.

I spent my last few days at Stanford trying to appreciate everything that it’s blessed me with so far. I went to the library and read my favorite book, “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath, just for the sake of appreciating accessibility to literally any book that I could think of in an environment of knowledge. I ran one last mile on the treadmill at Nearilliaga. I laid down in the Meyer Green grass and listened to the sounds of people around me. My roommate and I went to Olive’s, bought their famous sandwiches with what remaining meal plan dollars we had and sat outside under the blossoming trees. We shared stories of our childhoods, talked about our crazy, drunken 4 a.m. moments and breathed in the crisp, forthcoming spring air. We walked to the fountains around campus and sat in delicious silence, surrounded by an empty aura of breathtaking nature.

The night before I left for my flight, my roommate and I sat in our dorm room and talked about how there’s a hidden chef cooking a fried chicken on the U.S. map (can you find it?). We reminisced on our 2013 soft-grunge-scene-Tumblr-fanfiction kid days. She told me about how much she hates slugs but about how much she loves birds. I told her about the online fashion game that I used to play religiously in middle school. We mixed up some matcha green tea pudding and ate it the morning before my flight. I learned a lot about my roommate right before I left, and that made me even more sad to leave her behind. We understand each other on so many levels; she has become my new family that I come home to every day and share details of my life with.

I’m sure that other students feel the same way. These first two quarters have been a life-changing experience and I wouldn’t change a single thing that I’ve done. I wouldn’t un-meet anyone who I’ve met; I’ve really come to appreciate a lot of the people here. It’s the people that make this place special and I’m heartbroken to be leaving such a warm community so soon.

My time at Stanford has been like running on a hedonic treadmill. There have been a series of ups and downs, and sometimes it feels like it’s all worth it. Maybe it’s time to stop running, slow down and explore new perspectives. Maybe it’s time to take second chances, rebuild and come back freshly started.

Hopefully we’ll all be back together soon. Stanford will always be our home.

Stay safe.

Contact Amy Zhou at amy7 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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