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How Willamette students fill their newfound free time

Olivia Frenkel

Staff writer

For many Willamette students, March 12 marked the beginning of new personal battles with the effects of COVID-19. The email that announced Willamette’s transition to online classes made the reality of the world’s situation more clear and the aftermath of this was felt heavily across Willamette’s campus. State borders were rumored to be closing, meal points were used up, dorms were hurriedly packed and campus became more and more empty. Students listened to the news, fretted over podcasts listing the ever-rising statistics and joined the almost comical rush to buy toilet paper.

Now that days and weeks have passed, the once busy and sometimes overbooked Willamette student now has free time with endless ways to fill it.

For many, planning out the days ahead helps mimic the routine and structure that our normal lives once had. “I look at my week ahead and delegate specific tasks to each day, and if I’m not doing school work, Opening Days preparation or admissions work, then I’m using my time to stay healthy,” said Jack Hanscom (‘22). Hanscom has taken up learning to play the piano via online classes, saying: “I use the rest of my free time to learn new skills or improve old ones. I think the biggest thing I’d recommend is to focus on what you can control in a day by day fashion, in a way that’s productive for your time, your mental health and your heart.”

Location also has an effect on the daily life of an individual. Ronan Davies (‘23) lives in Alaska and explained that COVID-19’s effects aren’t felt nearly as heavily there. “There aren’t any lines in front of grocery stores, although Costco now puts the receipts in the cart, rather than handing it straight to you,” said Davies. After homework in the mornings, “I hike up different mountains since the resorts and lifts are closed, and I’ll ski for hours every day.” Though things seem close to normal, he expressed concern for the upcoming summer. “A lot of the jobs over the summer months are all tourism-based, but since the cruise ship season has been cancelled, I don’t know what a lot of people are planning to do.”

Others continue to go to work. Dana Hamilton (‘22) had just begun working at Salem Hospital before the pandemic. “I don’t have too much experience here yet, but from what people have told me, it’s actually much slower than what it used to be. They’re completely out of tests for the flu and tests for COVID-19 are extremely limited. People have to basically be on the verge of death to get one, so people with cough symptoms don’t bother coming in anymore.” She echoes the sentiments of many public health officials, saying, “Take this seriously. If an increase of cases were to happen in Salem, our hospital wouldn’t be able to handle it.” 

The last few students who remain on campus fill their time with homework and friends, but are finding it more and more difficult to stay. Emilia Kaldis (‘23) and Meredith Bolls (‘23) are among the few who continue to live in the first-year dorms. “I knew I would do better academically if I stayed, so I do homework, go outside when the weather is nice and hang out with my friends,” says Kaldis. Bolls agreed, saying, “I listen to podcasts and crochet a lot more now, but I’ve found that focusing on work has become a lot harder.” Both expressed concern over how much people are still interacting on campus, yet Bolls explained that “though I feel bad about seeing people, but really there’s only so much you can do if you’re using the same bathrooms and common rooms as everyone else.”

College students everywhere used to relish free time, yet now they face its surplus. Willamette students, now sprinkled across the country, are adaptable and very closely knit. So, call each other, do what you can and stay safe.

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