August 30, 2021

MEIDENBAUER | Facetime to Face Time

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Trust me, we all forgot how to interact with people.

We’re back.  Students are meandering through the streets, breathing life — and COVID — back into the decades-old buildings, but we won’t go there yet.  The lunch lines are longer than ever, my calves are burning and somehow I still don’t know how to use Canvas, despite being a senior.  Being back on campus is a refreshing way to start off the year;  like Sleeping Beauty, Cornell has finally awoken from her nearly two-year slumber.  

The shift to in-person classes is great for many reasons, but there are downsides.  While I enjoy being around people, engrossed in the joys of face-to-face interaction, it’s still overwhelming.  We went from a year of complete isolation, to somewhat being back, to now returning to “normal”.  I totally forgot how to interact with humans, and I’m hoping I’m not the only one. 

On another note, the loss of recorded lectures is a huge impairment.   As somebody who has a hard time writing and listening simultaneously, the ability to stop, rewind and slow down lectures drastically improved my understanding of course materials.  But alas, those days are no longer, at least for now.  I feel as if I was taking classes in slow motion, or at least normal speed, but now I’m back in the fast lane. 

Another thing I don’t miss about being on campus: the imposter syndrome.   It seems to sneak up on nearly every Cornellian; somehow we all doubt if we’re doing ‘enough’.  How can you even define ‘enough’?  Besides, everyone’s version of success is so different, but still I can’t shake that sinking feeling of regret hearing about my peers with internships at Google and Amazon, despite never aspiring to that myself. 

For me, and I’m sure for many other students, it’s all been a bit overwhelming; almost as if something’s missing.  As I await my next class, awkwardly typing away, while the 20 or so other students either do the same or are lost in their phones, it’s almost funny.  In zoom, we could just wait for the lecture to start in blissful silence, no social interaction necessary.  But, as we all sat waiting for our professor, face to face, the silence was deafening.  The only sounds were a hushed murmur from two girls in the corner who apparently already knew each other.  

Like clockwork, everyone’s settled into their rhythms and friend groups.  I won’t go so far as to call it cliques, but in a sense, that may be a harsh but more accurate way of describing this on campus phenomenon.  All the student athletes cluster together, determined to avoid the presence of NARPS (non-athletic regular people) as much as possible.  Greek life is similar.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, with more diverse friend groups, I’ll bet those people are in your classes, or maybe a club that you’re a part of.  

It’s natural to gravitate towards the people and experiences that we are familiar with, but if COVID has taught me anything, it’s the importance of human connection, beyond just the people who naturally will stay in your life. 

It’s like everybody is determined to live life in the fast lane.  The worst part is the self-doubt; questioning what everybody’s thinking, and how that pertains to you.  As if somehow you can justify your own path by comparison, but the comparison alone has you feeling empty.  

The girl next to me was braver than I, she broke the silence first.  Stumbling through small talk we somehow managed to pass the time in a much more comfortable way.  

So, when this same situation happened in my next class, I tried it.  Once again, everybody was silent, waiting in the hot stuffy room.  This time though, the room was packed.  Trying not to draw too much attention to myself, I sidled between chairs, muttering apologies before tripping into a seat at the corner.  But instead of letting the silence rest, I challenged it.  

“Hey!  How’s your day going?” 

That’s it.  Nothing magical, just a simple question.  But it worked.

Collectively, I think we all forgot how ‘normal’ school goes.  The everyday interactions with total strangers that we’ll forget about in an hour or so.  It’s as if the social distance has made me hyper-aware of these interactions, and I realized something.

We’re all human, and on some basic level, we all just want to be understood.  Those little moments of interaction can actually be really powerful.   In my classes, already creating a bit of camaraderie with my peers helped ease the stress of the impending doom that’s at times synonymous with Cornell.  It transitions a space from being one of the individual to a more collaborative, communicative environment.  At least we’re all in it together, right?  

So Cornell students, I have a challenge for you.  The next time you’re waiting for a class, and the silence is almost too awkward to bear, break it.

Lorelei Meidenbauer ’22 is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Hot-takes and Handshakes runs every other Tuesday this semester.