The Ultimate College Experience

When I signed up for the ultimate college experience, this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.


On New Year’s Day, I flew out from Melbourne with my sister, en route to the US. In a couple of weeks, I would begin classes at Barnard College, a liberal arts school for women in New York. I had been planning for this since the start of 2019, submitting application after application and stashing away as much money as possible.


Upon arrival, I spent a week at Disney World and then some time getting acquainted with New York before diving headlong into college life. Amidst attending classes, I was doing everything, from going to frat parties and basketball games to getting brunch in Tribeca. By week five of classes, it was coming down to the crunch, with my upcoming plans for Spring Break the light at the end of the tunnel. I had planned to go to DC for a few days to check out the museums before flying down to Orlando to stay with some family friends and have a nice, home cooked meal.


It was around week 7 that the Coronavirus panic started to break out. Cases had started popping up around New York and surrounds, but we were holding steady. It was only once Harvard suddenly announced that they were moving classes online and asking everyone to vacate campus that I started to worry.


I was in a dance rehearsal when the first email came out. It was the Sunday night prior to our last week of classes before the break. We were told that classes were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday to allow professors to prepare to go online for the rest of the week. On Tuesday they told us virtual classes would continue the week after Spring Break, but at this point I was still feeling optimistic. Sure, it would be a bit weird to take classes from my dorm, but it would only be temporary.


On Tuesday evening, my roommate packed a suitcase for the next couple of weeks and left with her parents. She only lives a few hours away and was planning on heading home for Spring Break anyway after she cancelled her plans to visit Europe a few weeks prior. We said our goodbyes, but we knew we would see each other again before we knew it.


In light of this, I continued to prepare for my trip. After a fair bit of internal debate, I thought that it would be best for me to get out of the city for a bit, so I did my laundry on Wednesday night and packed my bags for my early train ride on Friday morning. Then, on Thursday morning, the email came that said we would be transitioning to virtual classes for the rest of the semester. It felt like that magic trick where the tablecloth is pulled away and everything remains as is, except this time, there was actually no table underneath to catch the falling glasses.


The college had told us that we would be able to stay on campus, but as more and more messages came, it became clear that if you had already left, you should only return to pack up your room and go home again. For the rest of the semester, then, it was likely that I was going to be without a roommate.


After the news broke, I cancelled my train ticket and accommodation for DC. I got on the phone to the family friends I was staying with in Orlando and told them that I wouldn’t be coming. I then called home at 3:00am Melbourne time, desperately needing to hear my parents’ voices. Despite all of this, I still had my virtual classes to attend (if that’s the right word for it). The only thing getting me through them was the ticket on my desk to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” that night. Then my sister sent me a link that said Broadway would be going dark as of 5:00pm.


Everything was collapsing into a giant sinkhole. Amidst tears, I started unpacking my bag, taking out the denim shorts I had planned to wear in the Orlando sun and the Fruchocs I was going to give my family friends. I tore up my US Capitol tour ticket, knowing that it would never go to use and sat in my room feeling incredibly sorry for myself.


I knew that if I went home, it would be difficult to continue with my online classes as I would be waking up at 4:00am to do them. After keeping up with the recent news in Melbourne, it also became clear that if I were to return home, it would be possible that I wouldn’t have any work to return to for the next few months.


In one form or another, the answers are coming, and I am grateful that I have been allowed to stay on campus. On Friday night I went and grabbed dinner with some friends and saw flocks of seniors in their gowns. They were taking their graduation photos seven weeks earlier than they had originally planned. There were people kicking soccer balls on the lawn and sitting on the steps of the library eating dinner. Knowing that the campus will continue to clear out over the coming days, there was a bittersweet sense of normalcy to it all.


I think the worst part is the overwhelming suddenness. Within days, I have had to process that I will no longer get to attend all of the campus events I was looking forward to. There were hours of dance rehearsals for a show that will not come to fruition. There were conversations we had around the table in the dining hall that will never be had again. There were friends I had made in my classes who have now gone home, unlikely to come back.


I have decided to stay on for now. Who knows, by the time this article is published, I might be halfway across the Pacific. Or maybe I’ll be sitting on the floor of my dorm doing a puzzle with my remaining friends. I am taking it one day at a time.


One thing I know for sure is that now more than ever, it is time to be kind to others and be kind to yourself.


Take care,





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  1. Mark Duffett says

    Damn, Pie Girl. We too have had a once in a lifetime international experience upended (actually your tablecloth trick metaphor is better) by the current circumstances, but at least it’s all coming crashing down before our leaving home. Good advice at the end, hang in there.

  2. Strange days. Thanks for sharing. Hang in there. The magic will unfold. Black magic probably. “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”. (John Lennon)

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Love you Didge. Although we are a bit worried that you are going to be living with a Saints supporter for a while.

  4. Thanks Bridget, it is really good to hear individual stories like yours.

  5. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    As I write this, Bridget is sitting opposite me, having just scoffed down breakfast after a long sleep in her own bed. Alfie the cat is sniffing around, after initially being frightened of the recent arrival.

    It’s a great relief to have her home.

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