Oberlin Blogs

A Pleasantly Surprising Pandemic Summer

October 31, 2020

Aishwarya Krishnaswamy ’23

pond with fish.
Koi pond with beautiful fishes outside the Oberlin College Conservatory. Photo credit: Aishwarya Krishnaswamy

Just as the lush green leaves turn color this fall and the wind becomes chilly, I mourn the loss of the summer warmth and the sunlight bouncing off the lush green leaves. But at the same time, I am again reminded of my pandemic summer, which feels like a long time ago but was only a few months back. 

I will not lie; the first time my dad reminded me of Winston Churchill’s words, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,’ I rolled my eyes so hard. I thought my dad was being ridiculous; we were in the middle of a pandemic, I was away from my family battling this period of isolation on-campus. Mid-March, I held my hopes high even when the school went remote. I hoped things would become all right, and I would get to go back home in April. Come April and still no signs of going back home, I decided to keep my head down and focus on doing well in classes, finishing off my exams, and then flying back home in mid-May.

Exams came and went, and with that hit the realization that going back home this summer was not in the cards for me. That’s when I thought, if April and May were filled with longing and uncertainty, then the summer of 2020 would be painted with boredom and unfound anxiety.

In the first few weeks of June, I barely unpacked my boxes in my new summer housing (North dorm, aka Langston), holding on to the lingering hope of going back home. In the first few weeks of June, I spent my time walking around campus enjoying the lush green but hot summer beauty of Oberlin, connecting with other international students on-campus (socially distanced and masked, of course), and having long conversations with friends and family in Mumbai. Somewhere mid-June, the Type-A in me really wanted to get on to something to learn and grind, so I switched to part-time relaxation and part-time work mode.

I guess it was time to make the most of this pandemic summer after all. From there onwards, I whipped out my favorite red planner, which I had unashamedly abandoned for weeks. I made flow-charts and bullet points, using colored markers and sticky notes. I was on stage one of my mission to make this, if not the best, at least an energetic and effective summer of my life. During the academic year, I  always longed to build simple yet effective habits for self-growth. I wanted to work on some areas of my life: building a healthy sleep routine, a rich meditation habit, a healthy work-out and diet plan, and, most importantly, figuring out my major.

I have been intrigued by habits ever since I started watching James Clear’s videos about habits on YouTube. I did not want crucial parts of my life to be mood-dependent; the decision-making fatigue is draining even in the pre-COVID era, but it is purely overwhelming during the pandemic. I wanted to shift things that mattered from system-two thinking to system-one thinking (Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman introduces system one as the quick snap-decision part and system two as the more lazy but thought-induced part). I first started with the Headspace app by Andy Pudicombe to add some meditation into my routine. Initially, a three-minute exercise gradually became 10 minutes of meditation every day. 

With this vital facet of my college life sorted out, I went on to add more habits to my arsenal. Next on was a sleep routine and a morning routine. I was giving myself a no-gadget hour before bedtime, switched out my phone scroll tendency with a reading routine and a mini-meditation ritual.  

I allowed myself 7-8 hrs of sleep each night and went alarm-free in the mornings for a restful and uninterrupted sleep. My mornings included a workout, shower, meditation, prayer, and journaling outdoors. Some days, I would enjoy my mornings with the little sparrows near Slow Train, and other days, I would marvel at the Koi fishes in the pond near the conservatory. 

As summer progressed, I shifted from abating loneliness to embracing solitude as I basked in the Oberlin campus's summer glory. I enjoyed my mindful meals from Stevenson, my fun light-hearted conversations with Myra (a chef and food server in the dining hall). Parallelly the free courses from Coursera helped me widen my skill set and gain more confidence. These skills came in handy when I landed an internship as a research intern for Talerang, India. 

Reflecting back, the summer helped restore and revive my energy for this notoriously demanding semester. I am grateful to have experienced this season at Oberlin.

Oberlin’s natural beauty, the tall trees, bees, bugs, clear blue skies, and numerous squirrels never left my side and instilled in me a deeper rooting for this place. Thank you, Oberlin, for including me in this journey, in this season, and for being a part of my life’s narration.

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