Katie Go ’22 — otherwise known as YouTuber Katie Tracy — regularly brought viewers from across the world along with her to study, meet friends and shop in Ithaca.
But one year ago, Katie was forced to pack her belongings and book flights home when Cornell canceled classes due to the emerging pandemic, joining thousands of other students scrambling to leave behind their college lives.
Katie vlogged every step of her experience, her usual catchy video titles replaced by grave phrases — “last day at cornell university” and “cornell is kicking students out. coronavirus outbreak.” Her once colorful thumbnails turned into stills of distressed expressions.
Now, after more than 300 days in the Philippines, a remote fall semester and dozens of YouTube videos, Katie is finally back on campus, picking up where she left off.
“Things have been very exciting,” Katie told The Sun. “I don’t take it for granted. I really try to take advantage of it. Every day has really been a gift.”
The junior information science major is well-known for her presence on YouTube, her channel showcasing her life as a Cornell student through daily vlogs, room tours and collaborations with other students. When she returned to Ithaca, Katie reached 200,000 subscribers, hitting a new milestone in her YouTube career.
“Two-hundred-thousand is mindblowing, of course,” Katie said. “Definitely beyond my wildest 13-year-old dreams back when I was really dreaming of being a full-time YouTuber.”
Reflecting on her experience after Cornell suspended classes and sent students home, Katie remembered feeling uncertain about the future and concerned about her ability to return home safely — a worry that rattled many international students.
“[I thought,] ‘I have three flights to book and a whole life to pack up here,’ and I had 24 to 48 hours,” Tracy said. “How can I do this?’”
Cornell’s International Student Office helped her throughout the abrupt move-out process, but Tracy’s worries continued throughout the remainder of the semester and into the summer.
“It felt like my life had been uprooted,” Katie said. “I had put so much of my hopes and dreams into this country. In that moment, I realized how dispensable my status [as an international student] was.”
In a video entitled, “dear international students. (we’re getting kicked out of the U.S.)” posted in July, Katie voiced these concerns to a global audience of over 30,000 viewers.
“These days, I feel like I’m waking up from that dream I conceived, but also deceived myself into,” she said in the three-minute video, reading from a letter she had written. “I am only a foreigner.”
Despite the limitations of being an international student, Katie remains grateful for the opportunities in store for her: “No matter how much I want to believe that I have the same opportunities here, I don’t,” Katie said. “But that’s okay because I do have my own country and I think there are opportunities all over the world.”
As an international student, Katie’s uncertain visa status and the threat of the virus also posed major challenges to her return to Ithaca, prompting her to stay in the Philippines for the fall semester.
Though disheartened away from Ithaca, Katie found a silver lining: without the sights and attractions of Cornell’s campus, new projects awaited.
“When I went back home I was in my room feeling restless … It felt like I couldn’t do things in the moment,” Katie said. “I thought: ‘Katie you’ve been making videos in your room for the past six years and you’re an information science major. How can you possibly say that when you have technology at your fingertips?’”
Katie co-hosted The Secret Syllabus, a college lifestyle podcast with iHeartRadio and co-founded a nonprofit program called IBlieve, a nonprofit tutoring program for students in the International Baccalaureate program, which now has a team of over 80 students from across the world. The program also helped Katie combat the loneliness that came with her time zone.
“It was really hard to reach my friends, and it felt really disconnected,” Katie said. “Meeting these people from all over the world and having [them] talk about their experiences was really encouraging to me and made me really grateful that I could still be here meeting people online.”
When deciding whether or not to come to campus this spring, Katie weighed the challenges of staying up until 4 a.m. for her classes because of the 13-hour time difference. After much deliberation, she decided to travel back to the U.S. Her first time out of the house in hundreds of days was her trip to the airport.
Currently, Katie is still vlogging and uploading videos weekly, capturing her return to Cornell. But, the process of sharing content has changed significantly since her first year. According to Katie, uploading videos as a first-year student felt like merely checking things off a to-do list — removing her rigid upload schedule helped her to rediscover her joy of creating.
“This past year helped me … make every one that I was proud of,” Katie said. “It’s not because I have to upload, but because I really cherish the moments that I’m having here.”
After she was forced from campus, Katie prepared to never return to the U.S. Now that she is back in Ithaca, she feels that she has entered a different stage of her life she thought had passed.
“It was almost like I had another shot at doing this college experience right … This is an opportunity that not a lot of people have right now, and it’s one I thought I would never have again,” Katie said. “I think I can truly say I will have no regrets right now and I want to make the most of it.”