So, last October, I wrote about how finding community during your time as a MLIS student is important, especially if you are an online student. This has become especially true over the past month as I have stayed home and quarantined with my family to lower our risk of contracting COVID-19 as instructed by local and state officials. Now, while I was already an online graduate student before having to quarantine, I will admit that the last month has been hard mentally and emotionally. I think it would be hard to find anyone who has not found themselves at least slightly more emotional as we all grapple with our current situation, especially as some of our peers still fight to get their libraries to close.
Thus, to be even more honest, I will also admit that, in preparing for graduate school, no one ever talked about how lonely it can be to be an online student at times. Try as you might, sometimes joining and getting involved in student groups and forging friendships online with your peers just does not fully replace seeing and interacting with people face-to-face. Nor, should it try to as nothing can fully replace it, as I have gradually realized. Thus, I can imagine just how jarring it must be for everyone who has had to weather the transition from attending in-person classes to attending online classes almost overnight. When your interactions with peers, faculty, and staff all occur online without having that important face time outside of FaceTime, it can be incredibly hard on someone who is used to having that contact.
As I mentioned in my October piece, “. . . human interaction, by principle, relies on the ability to form connections and relationships with people right in front of us, regardless if they are at work, at home, or around the communities we all live in.” But how can we do that if, instead of having someone right in front of us, we can only see them through a computer screen more than 6 feet away, if even that, for the foreseeable future as deadlines shift? Thus, while I acknowledged then that there are ways to overcome the difficulties of attending graduate school (or any other level of schooling, really) online by reaching out, now, I see that this has become harder to do.
While I do still recognize that attending classes online can be most cost-effective and flexible, when they are coupled with a pandemic, they can some days seem like a huge obstacle – which is a point that fellow HLS writers have touched on lately. For example, just in the last few weeks alone, I have felt myself becoming burnt out faster, not just because of the workload I am shouldering with 9 units; but because our current situation is emotionally draining. There is no way it cannot be as we all learn how to adjust to new rules and restrictions being imposed on us while being concerned for loved ones’, as well as our own, well-being and trying to balance everything else. It is like any sort of acclimation period we may have had has been accelerated at warp speed and we are just trying to hold on until the curve is flattened and we can resume a more stable sense of normalcy.
However, I must say that, while this last month has been hard on me, the fact that we are all experiencing this on some level together has been somewhat comforting as we all can still lean on each other for support even if we are not physically next to each other since we are all experiencing the pandemic simultaneously. So, it may not look like it did before, but the community we are a part of as MLIS students, as well as in our separate families, circles of friends, and peer groups, is still there. Even on our hardest days, none of us is really alone; even if our current situation makes us feel as if we are. So, while I acknowledge still that not everyone’s support systems may look the same, I know that, in times like these, they are just as indispensable as they were before as they can keep us from staying inside our own heads all of the time. We are all in this together, so it is important for us to reach out, lean on, and support each other so we can get through this together. Stay safe and well, everyone.
How have you found community during this pandemic? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.