The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have had to experience in our lifetimes. When the virus began to spread globally, it seemed like the world was shrinking, forcing us to feel the isolation and limitations on freedoms we have always known. Whether it was attending online Zoom classes or wearing face masks wherever we go, we had to adapt and accept that this was and still is reality (at least for the time being).
More specifically, UCLA students have had time to reflect on the pandemic, grappling with physical and internal distress and learning how to cope and bounce back in unique ways. Now, as there seems to be hope for a COVID-free future, here in their own voices, six UCLA students (Rafay Siddiqui, Mitchell Swantner, Zahrah Ali, Danielle Rommerdahl, Yvette Barrera, and Nikola Nikolic) speak on their lives pre-COVID and the last year or so.
On pre-COVID living:
Siddiqui (first-year mathematics/economics major): “Before the pandemic, I had recently wrapped up my college applications as a high school senior in the hopes of attending a university such as UCLA. Once COVID struck, I had the displeasure of spending the remainder of my senior year quarantined at home and unable to celebrate my graduation with family and friends. However, getting accepted into UCLA stands—along with graduation—as memorable events that certainly boosted my spirits despite the pandemic.”
Swantner (second-year political science major): “I transferred to UCLA the fall before everything shut down, so my UCLA experience pre-COVID was very brief. I lived in a dorm with other transfers… It felt like the new friends I’d made were always with me.”
Ali (fourth-year political science major): “My life before COVID consisted of going to classes and meetings, hanging out with friends, and eating in the dining halls. I spent a lot of time on campus, specifically at Kerk!”
Rommerdahl (fourth-year psychobiology and political science major): “Before COVID, I was on campus for eight hours or more every day. I was attending club meetings and going to work, as well as hanging out with my friends during the week and going out on the weekends. I’m involved in MUN at UCLA and would often go to conferences a few weekends a quarter, sometimes traveling across the country for them.”
Barrera (fourth-year English major): “Before the pandemic, I [lived] on campus and really enjoyed the atmosphere. I usually would have a whole structured routine of getting ready, heading to class, doing homework on campus, and having dinner with friends. I went to club meetings and events. Every day on campus felt lively!”
Nikolic (third-year biochemistry major): “Before the pandemic, I was able to work as a barista at Music Cafe and as an undergraduate researcher at a biochemistry lab. Unfortunately, these opportunities were canceled due to the whole situation, and I was left without extracurriculars that I was passionate about.”
On the pandemic (good versus bad):
Siddiqui: “I feel that I have been deprived of the traditional graduation experience I had worked toward. Once slated to deliver a speech at graduation, my brother and I had to settle with pre-recording our address so as to accommodate the virtual drive-by graduation planned instead. And while the efforts were certainly valiant in their own right, I felt the pandemic had robbed me of the opportunity to experience this big milestone in the presence of close family and friends… On the bright side, having an extended break due to the pandemic did, unexpectedly, provide multiple opportunities to pick up new hobbies and skills. With excess time on my hands, I was able to explore countless interests that helped me decide which classes to take or which organizations to join at UCLA.”
Swantner: “COVID has presented a lot of challenges for me—emotionally, physically, socially, and mentally. I’ve struggled with long periods of sadness and depression, feeling angry that this happened, and being nervous about what the future holds. I also think it’s going to be much harder for me to adjust to social settings once (if) the pandemic subsides. However, I’ve also had a lot of time to reflect on myself, my politics, my relationships with friends, and my general thoughts and attitudes toward life. I think I’m going to be better off having taken the time to work through these issues.”
Ali: “I feel like I missed out on college. As a transfer, I only got two quarters on campus. I’m honestly so sad about it because UCLA was my dream school, so to have had all that taken away was disheartening… [Still], I gained closer ties to my friends. COVID gave us more time to bond and spend time together, which was great!”
Rommerdahl: “COVID has made me a lot more anxious when outside or around groups, which I never experienced before. I also lost my job at the beginning of the pandemic and have had to deal with financial problems for the past year. [At the same time], COVID has brought me a lot closer with many of my friends and family despite the physical distance between us. It has helped me with my classes and grades; as someone with ADHD, in-person classes sometimes made it difficult for me to learn. However, online classes have actually made it easier for me because I can take breaks or rewind if I miss anything.”
Barrera: “COVID has really impacted my mental health. I think isolation and being away from people has been the hardest for me. It made it difficult to keep up connections and put effort into my productivity levels… [On the bright side], I gained the opportunity to be more self-disciplined. It takes a lot more effort for me to attend my classes and make sure I’m on top of my work when I’m at home.”
Nikolic: “I missed out on very important opportunities that would’ve helped me shape my career or choose the right career path for myself. However, the pandemic has taught me that we have to be resilient in order to survive and be successful… Even though modern medicine is highly advanced, we still have so much to learn in order to combat viral and bacterial infections. Because of the pandemic, the 21st century will be a century of growth in terms of science and healthcare. As a premed student, the pandemic has only pushed me further in wanting to become a doctor and a researcher. I want to bring meaningful change and knowledge in the fields of medicine and biochemistry/microbiology.”
On hoping for a brighter future:
Siddiqui: “First and foremost, I especially look forward to experiencing the in-person collegiate lifestyle that I had dreamt of for years, especially at a beautiful campus such as UCLA. [I also look forward to] popping the social bubble that the coronavirus has formed over the past year.”
Swantner: “I am most looking forward to live music again. The 14 or so months we’ve been locked down is the longest period of time I’ve gone without seeing live music since I was 15 years old.”
Ali: “I look forward to going to in-person events, [especially] commencement. I also can’t wait to work and intern in-person.”
Rommerdahl: “I’m looking forward to just seeing more of my friends before I move in June and overall, not feeling so anxious going outside anymore.”
Barrera: “I look forward to going to concerts, going to the beach, and traveling. I also look forward to celebrating my graduation with friends and family.”
Nikolic: “I miss having people over or going to hangout with someone. I haven’t seen some of my closest family since 2019 because they live in Serbia and other countries in Europe. I hope that I’ll be able to see them soon, especially my grandparents who are already in their mid-80s.”
Despite the ups and downs the UCLA community and people everywhere have had to navigate during the pandemic, there is no denying that 2020 was a year like no other. A virus that knew no boundaries marked all of us in tragic and/or extraordinary ways, and for that, we owe it to applaud ourselves.