Fresh Perspective | Making friends during COVID-19

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

The fall of my senior year of high school — around this time last year — I knew I was meant to go to Pitt. I knew the day I got the acceptance letter that I wanted to spend the next four years of my life at this school and make it mine. I was ready for the Saturday tailgates and football games, the buzzing social scene on the weekends and the new friends who were coming my way.

I looked forward to my new life as a Panther — and then COVID-19 rocked our world.

It’s crazy to think that on a random Friday in March, all of our lives were changed forever. I remember coming home from school, taking a nap and thinking everything was going to be normal when I woke up. Rumors swirled around school that this unknown virus was going to send us home, but we all laughed. Little did we know that was the last time we were ever going to step foot in our high school again.

At first, quarantine started at two weeks. If I’m being honest, I was excited for a little two week staycation from school. Then things got serious — I could no longer leave my house or see my friends. I said goodbye to the idea of having graduation or senior prom, and suddenly handshakes and hugs became taboo.

Our lives leading up to that point had to be thrown out the window as we adapted to our new normal that consisted of social distancing, masks and hand sanitizer.

After spending almost seven months living with COVID, I have adapted and accepted things for how they are, even if it isn’t ideal. I realize how lucky I am to be able to live on campus this fall, as a lot of my high school friends are home doing school in their bedrooms.

I knew that coming here wasn’t going to be the first-year experience that I was expecting, but it was the one I was going to have to make the best of.

I had to kiss any fantasies about my first year of college goodbye. I had to accept the new normal on campus — no guests allowed in dorms, pod week, wearing masks everywhere, limited social activities and online classes. It was definitely frustrating at first — my senior year of high school was ruined and interrupted by COVID, and now my first year of college isn’t what I expected.

Even though it seems like we all got the short end of the stick, I’m grateful that we are here and that Pitt is taking every precaution to keep everyone safe and healthy. Through navigating this new and confusing college culture during COVID, I realized one thing — the importance of friends.

On a Tuesday in July, I opened my housing assignment to learn that I was living by myself, separated from the friend with whom I had expected to live. I was thinking to myself “well, this is great! I get to spend my first year of college all alone in my dorm taking online classes!”

As much as I was looking forward to getting out of my house and starting a new chapter, I was doubting whether it was worth it to leave everything I had known and all the people I love to go to a school where I wouldn’t get the experience I was expecting. It was a hard decision to come here. I depend very much on my friends and family, and doing things out of my comfort zone terrifies me — but I can’t imagine what my life would look like if I didn’t come to Pitt.

I was the very first person to move into my floor. I walked past all the empty dorm rooms that had strangers’ names on them as I entered the double dorm that I would occupy all by myself. It was weird. It felt like I shouldn’t have been there. As I spent all day in my dorm by myself decorating the big blank walls, I began to fear spending time alone in my dorm room. I kept my door open and said hello to passing students on my floor, but that was really it.

Making new friends scared me, as I was so used to being with my best friends from home, where it was just so easy to be myself. I would have spent the night alone and not talked to anyone if it wasn’t for the one text that started it all.

My floor already had a group chat through GroupMe, and when we all got a text to hang out in another room, it started the beginning of some really great friendships. I spent hours talking to the girls on the floor and meeting the guys that lived across the hall. The night consisted of laughing and getting to know each other and seeing everyone’s newly decorated dorms.

Of course, there was some awkwardness and slight discomfort in the air as no one really knew each other, but it felt great to know that we all were in the same boat. I remember going to bed that night with a smile on my face because I was proud of putting myself out there.

From then on, I’ve spent every day with the people on my floor. We do everything together. My favorite times are when it’s 2 a.m and we have no business being up so late, but we all just talk and laugh with each other. We sit in each other’s rooms just talking and enjoying each other’s company, but we also like to dress up every now and then and go out to dinner.

No matter how hard school gets or how stressed we all become about the state of the world, at the end of the day, we know we lean on each other. I know that I have gained some of the best friends in the world, and this wouldn’t be the case if I’d stayed in my room, alone, the first night.

Even though being here during a pandemic means that we have to sacrifice some of the social aspects that come with college, we have found a way to make the best out of it. We spend time in campus green spaces playing frisbee, listening to music or eating. We do homework together in the library and after long days of classes and work, we watch movies in our lounge or just hang out in someone’s dorm.

I’m really grateful because these social limitations force us to be around each other all the time, which has strengthened all of our friendships. Yes — some nights we wish that things were normal and that we could go out and live our lives like there was no pandemic, but we found that as long as we have each other, it’s okay. We just try and enjoy what we are given.

After creating these important relationships, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I decided to play it safe and stay home. Even though Pitt couldn’t give me the Saturday football games, bustling social scenes or in-person classes, it gave me something a lot better — my new family.

This is a hard and confusing time for everyone, not just first-year students. Even though some things we were looking forward to have been disrupted by COVID, there’s a silver lining in everything, and the people on my floor are my silver lining.

There is a lot in the world to be happy about, like our relationships with others, and it’s important to let that outshine the dark. At first, I was doubtful about coming to college during a pandemic, but I’m so grateful that I did.

Julia Smeltzer writes primarily about mental health and self-care. Write to her at [email protected].