Graphic of a home and bacteria. Many students around the globe found themselves confined to their homes this summer in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. PUBLIC DOMAIN

Minal Chawla is a junior health science major.

Summertime with my family in Ludhiana, India pre-pandemic meant sharing my unique college experiences — like late-night breakfast hours — and going on a family vacation where we would drive for hours to reach the Golden Temple, a sacred pilgrimage for people of the Sikh faith. Just like many other college students, I had a laundry list of activities I wanted to do this summer. And as many others might relate, my summer plans headed south extremely quickly in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. I never imagined I would be cooped up for months, yearning to go outside.

When my final exams ended in May, I thought I was going to use my time to decompress from the stress — but little did I know that relieving myself from the pressure of exams meant adding stress and life changes brought by the pandemic. Touching packages that I ordered online was never an issue but now even after meticulously disinfecting them, the reoccurring thought fills my mind – what if the virus is still living on surfaces

To make the best use of my time, I started exploring virtual internships and online courses that I could do in order to be more productive. I was fortunate to come across AT&T’s online summer academy, which allowed me to develop my leadership and management skills. It was a self-paced online learning certificate program through which I had an opportunity to hear from speakers like Molly Bloom, author of “Molly’s Game,” and CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Although this program kept me busy for a few weeks, I still felt like there was no end to some exceedingly boring days where the weather couldn’t be grayer. 

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Over time, I understood how vital it is to stay centered and prepared for whatever our future holds. I was fortunate to have my friends and family, who prevented me from getting dragged into a state of anxiety. My parents always provided me with a lot of comfort by listening to my worries with compassion and understanding. Sharing my feelings with them helped me to gain a different perspective when drowning in uncertainty. They encouraged me to use my time at home to explore my career path in health science and gain new experiences, which pushed me to enroll in online courses that covered topics ranging from global health to personal branding. 

These summer courses were instrumental in providing me with a chance to network with peers across the continents and at the same time gave me exposure to diverse cultures. I worked on an assignment with students from Australia where we had to use the six-hat thinking technique to design a health care plan for people with physical disabilities. This thinking method focuses on tackling a problem or a decision using a range of approaches and each hat represents a particular way of thinking. Collaborating with other students enhanced my self-awareness and developed my interpersonal skills. I realized that studying in an online environment can actually be substantial to one’s academic growth.

Since I was confined at home, I also engaged in different aerobic activities to maintain my physical and mental health. This was fundamentally new for me because I had never attempted to do intense aerobic activity without any guidance. For starters, I gave jumping rope a shot, and truth be told, I was surprised to learn how therapeutic it can be.

Most of my days were spent attending Zoom meetings, practicing some sort of physical activity, finding new shows and movies to watch on Netflix, exploring my career career exploration and networking online. I set small achievable goals for myself, like decluttering my room, and I found activities, like assisting my mom with her cooking, that kept me occupied. I indulged in frequent self-care activities, like playing badminton, gardening and taking short naps to ease my anxiety over feelings of uncertainty about my education, mental health and most importantly life after the pandemic.

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Despite the obvious downsides of spending summer break amidst a global pandemic, I found smaller joys and peace that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. This summer has taught me that even in these upended circumstances, we should use the extra time on our hands to nourish ourselves. It’s safe to say that I am finally ready to gear up for another great semester of virtual learning with full optimism. 

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