Alone together: Students find friendship in isolation
Imagine leaving home after months of quarantine to finally see your friends and feel a sense of normalcy only to be isolated from them and, in some cases, isolated without knowing anyone at your new school. For two Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) students, experiencing isolation was not what they had in mind when they returned to campus.
“I’m a transfer student, so it was kind of hard because I was just starting to meet people,” Emma Van said.
Van, a junior international business student, is hoping to join the campus community, while also pursuing her passion for beach volleyball. However, her plans were cut short when she woke up feeling ill after the first week of classes.
“I thought it was the morning sore throat, so I just went about my day. But it didn’t get better,” Van said.
The next day, Van’s symptoms continued to progress, so she let the school know.
“I had the symptoms and [PBA] wanted to be safe. Better safe than sorry,” Van said.
Once the school was notified, Van was given an hour to pack up two weeks worth of belongings and move into PBA’s isolation unit apartments in Lakeview.
“The apartment itself was very different because it wasn’t as decorated; it wasn’t as homey,” Van said.
She spent 10 days in isolation despite receiving notification that she tested negative for COVID-19. The school had her stay in Lakeview all while dealing with inconveniences such as having Wi-Fi connection trouble, not hearing her virtual professor due to him speaking from behind a mask and only receiving delivered meals twice a day.
“That was probably my least favorite part about isolation, but I knew they were doing the best that they could,” Van said. “It was hard to be on their schedule instead of being like, 'I'm hungry, I want to eat.’”
During her time in isolation, Van was also miles away from her family in Georgia where she found out her brother had tested positive for COVID-19. Thankfully, despite having a fever, he was fine.
While in isolation, Van also received daily check-in calls from PBA’s Health Alert team as well as daily calls from PBA President Dr. Debra Schwinn who would pray over the students.
“There were people checking in everyday in case we needed anybody to talk to,” Van said. “It was nice to have that support.”
Despite the inconveniences she faced, Van found companionship with her fellow peers who were also in isolation. Each night she was allowed to go outside to sit and have dinner with them. Those in isolation were allowed to socialize with one another as long as they stayed a distance of at least six feet apart.
“It was a blessing in disguise because I got to meet a lot of people through quarantine even though I got taken away from friends in class,” Van said. “It was like we had our own little community.”
She still keeps in touch with those friends now that she’s out of isolation.
Holly Heers, a junior English major, was another isolated student. A week after returning to campus, she had come down with a cough and minor fever, eventually losing her sense of taste temporarily.
After being moved into isolation, she tested positive for COVID-19 and isolated for 12 days.
“My first thoughts were mostly just disappointment about what I would be missing out on,” Heers said. “But then I started thinking about what a weird and unique experience it would be to be basically alone for 10 days.”
Heers was checked on daily, but she found herself also dealing with the minor, but unavoidable, inconveniences of isolation.
“Academically it was challenging to focus when you have no structure and you just sit in your room all day,” Heers said.
Heers, just like Van, connected with other isolated students. They were all alone, together. Heers found herself developing new friendships as well as strengthening her previous ones.
“It was nice to be able to hangout with other people who had COVID,” Heers said. “We would eat dinner and talk together in the parking lot most nights.”
Overall, both students found the strength to overcome isolation through relating to their fellow peers and facing the same hardships together.
While COVID-19 has brought many challenges, it has also managed to bring people closer, making lasting impacts on the college experiences of students like Van and Heers.
By Morgan Therrien