The first year sophomore experience
After a freshman year defined by isolation, my sophomore year opened alongside hundreds of underclassmen dancing on the East End for close to two hours. We worked out our calves to the likes of “Milky Chance” and Prince and a slew of other covers that St. Louis-based band “Galaxy” played with gusto. Most of us haven’t been able to do something as simple as dance with each other, without looming repercussions of illness, in so long. No more than a few inches separated any two dancers, resulting in dirtied shoes and sweaty shirts but also acting as a sweet reminder of how lovely life can be surrounded by a crowd of people you’ve never met.
I’m currently sitting on a chair in the remote stacks of the second floor of the East Asian library. I’m mixed in with books written in languages I’d only be guessing the names of and listening to an air conditioner run on full blast. I don’t even know why there’s a chair where I am, but I’d like to think someone put it here for people looking to escape the chaos of the outside world. I am one with the silent stacks. I could’ve sat downstairs at one of the handsome wooden desks in the part of the library where people do work, but I wanted to escape people for a minute, and the far corner of the library felt like the perfect place for that.
The outside world is jarring at the moment. Campus is alive in a way that I should’ve expected, but had no way to prepare myself for. Getting food at the DUC last year took about five minutes at most. Today, people were practically stagnant, and I waited around 15 minutes for some mashed potatoes and salad. I sat in a class with over 160 people today. That same class last year was taught through asynchronous Canvas modules that I quickly lost the ability to keep track of.
While I knew there would be more people on campus this year, I didn’t realize quite how dramatic the shift would feel. The changes are liberating overall: I can now see people’s faces walking around campus, six-person booths in BD aren’t limited to two, our swipe access extends to all dorms on campus, the list goes on. Adjusting to these changes, however, is taking more energy out of me than I anticipated. And as someone who identifies as very extroverted, I can only imagine how overstimulating campus must feel for individuals whose social batteries drain quickly.
My advice for anyone else who’s a bit overwhelmed by this new influx of people and energy is to find your chair in a corner. Not this chair—this one’s mine. But find a place where you can escape it all if you need that for yourself. I know how compelled I felt in the first semester last year to make as many plans and meet as many people as possible. Take time to listen to what your mind and body need. Let yourself find solitude and silence if you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you do end up finding yourself at one with the stacks, let me know.
I finally did end up making my way to a part of a library where I was surrounded by other people instead of just books. On Tuesday, after a year of being barred from Olin library, I got to walk through as a student on a mission: logging into Zoom for a class that five minutes earlier I thought was in-person. Sure, the situation wasn’t perfect, I was still headed towards a Zoom, but there was progress: I had graduated from the study cubbies that used to be the only seating in the library to a real cushy chair surrounded by other humans in their own cushy chairs. Ah, what a life to live. I felt an adrenaline rush just walking through the library.
About an hour and a half later I stepped out of the library listening to my playlist for drives with my dad. He’s not a fan of most music, so the entire playlist is Broadway songs I know he’s fond of. It took a tremendous amount of energy to not dance as I was headed towards my next destination. It wasn’t just Sutton Foster’s singing that begged my feet to start tapping; it was also that I could finally wear sunglasses and not have them get fogged up by wearing a mask outdoors, and that the sun was pouring down on us instead of the torrential rain from the day earlier, and that just a few hours previously I was sitting directly next to other students in my classes and not wreaking havoc by doing so.
So it’s alright that the campus is a bit overwhelming. I’ll take that over underwhelming any day of the week.