Past vloggers share how COVID-19 has changed their lives

Our past vloggers from 2017, 2018 and 2019 hail from different corners of the globe, study in different schools and boast different interests and aspirations. But each one has been changed by the COVID-19 crisis in profound, often heartbreaking ways. Here, we learn how they are coping with a crisis that has upended their college careers.

Sophomore Roberto Cabrera-Castro

Cabrera-Castro introduced his mother to Ted Drewes in the fall.

Major: Accounting and finance, Olin Business School

Hometown: Guaynabo, Puerto Rico

Roberto Cabrera-Castro had a terrific first year at Washington University. He learned to salsa dance with WU Fuego, played intramural volleyball with other students from Puerto Rico and hung out with new friends from business fraternity Pi Gamma Nu. How, he wondered, would he acclimate to campus life now that all of those activities have been deemed dangerous?  

“I am an extrovert, and it was hard for me to adjust to the concept of social distancing,” Cabrera-Castro said. “I knew that to be happy, I would need to find ways to break the isolation.” 

One small solution: Frozen custard. Every weekend, Cabrera-Castro and his roommate grab concretes at the iconic Ted Drewes. They also meet for meals several times a week on campus or the Loop.

“We’ve really made a commitment to get out of our rooms and these virtual spaces,” Cabrera-Castro said.

Cabrera-Castro also participates in WU Fuego’s occasional online practices. He joined as a novice but ended his first year as an instructor. 

“Dancing without a partner is as hard as it sounds,” Cabrera-Castro said. “When I came here, I never imagined how much fun and relaxing I would find dancing. And now it’s really hard to go without it.” 

Watch Cabrera-Castro’s video here.

Garcia (center) with friends on Art Hill before the pandemic.

Senior Jazmin Garcia 

Major: Anthropology, Arts & Sciences

Hometown: Evanston, Ill.

COVID-19 has reinforced senior Jazmin Garcia’s commitment to a career in medicine. This summer, as part of her Gephardt Institute Civic Scholar summer project, she worked as a mental health intake specialist with Casa de Salud, which provides clinical and mental health care to uninsured immigrants. 

“I knew the data showed COVID disproportionately affects different communities, but I really got to see the impact,” Garcia said. “Access to care is so stratified. And that’s something I definitely want to work to correct in my career.” 

This fall, Garcia is continuing her studies in global health and has found her professors to be empathetic and accommodating. One professor solicited student input before scheduling a big paper; another modified assignments based on student interests.

“They don’t want to add extra stress to an already stressful time,” Garcia said. “It’s been refreshing to feel that connection between the professors and the students.” 

Still, Garcia acknowledged she sometimes feels detached from campus life. 

“Is today Monday? Is today Tuesday? Who knows,” Garcia said. “Without the built-in structure, it can be hard to remember that you’re in school.”

Watch Garcia’s video here.

Junior Ella Holman

Major: Dance, Arts & Sciences

Hometown: St. Louis 

Holman is happy to be dancing in studio.

Junior Ella Holman returned to campus in the spring after taking a leave of absence the previous semester. The transition was bumpy, and she ended the year with some incompletes. The fall has not been any easier, but Holman is pushing through. 

“I’m setting reasonable goals for myself that put mental health first,” Holman said. “So instead of getting all As, I set goals like communicating better with my teachers and organizing my time. I’m trying to focus not just on how I’m doing, but how I am feeling.”

The killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor took a toll, Holman said.

“There has never been a pause in the unjust murders of Black people in America,” Holman said. “A lot of people took their newfound anger to the streets, but I’ve been feeling the weight of that anger my entire life.  But prayer, reading  the Bible and conversations with people who love me are helping me lift the weight and value myself.”

And so does dance. She is grateful the Performing Arts Department has found a safe way to have in-person classes.

“The classes have been inspiring,” said Holman, who also teaches dance to children. “Just the feeling of dancing with others brings a good energy. When you are trying to create, when you’re trying to inspire, it’s so important to be in community.” 

Watch Holman’s video here

Sophomore Elizabeth Joseph

Elizabeth Joseph (yellow sweater) with friends before the pandemic.

Major: Beyond Boundaries and Psychology, Arts & Sciences

Hometown: Kansas City, Kan.

Not long ago, Elizabeth Joseph came across a tweet that perfectly encapsulated sophomore year in the era of COVID. 

“It said, ‘Sorry I didn’t text back all week. My body became a vessel for the spirit of academia and for the past five days I’ve existed only to complete assignments and post on discussion boards,’” Joseph said. “That’s where I’m at. I feel my life is totally devoted to school work.” 

On the upside, Joseph likes that asynchronous classes offer more flexibility in both when and how she learns. She’ll take breaks to cook, run errands and hang out with her three roommates. But she feels unseen by her professors.

“For me, a huge part of my freshman year was building relationships with my professors,” Joseph said. “I was the type of person who likes staying after class to ask questions and go to office hours. That’s a lot harder now. ” 

Friendships are harder to maintain as well, especially since most clubs are on hold.

“I need to make a conscious effort not to be the person in the tweet,”  Joseph said. “I need to text people back and stay engaged so I don’t get burned out.”

Watch Joseph’s video here.

Junior Marissa Kalkar

Kalkar with her parents at Forest Park.

Major: Computer science, McKelvey School of Engineering 

Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.

A year ago, junior Marissa Kalker was a member of the women’s soccer team and a member of a sorority. Now she’s neither. 

“So much has happened this past year,” Kalkar said. “I’m always pretty open to change, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy.”  

Kalkar decided to leave the soccer team to focus on her studies in computer science and to build campus organizations Women in Computer Science and WashU BizTech. The campus shutdown, of all things, helped her adjust to life off the field.

“Being home and with my family gave me a chance to step back and reflect on the journey without soccer,“ Kalkar said. “If there was one blessing of COVID for me, this was it.”

The killing of George Floyd also made a big impact on Kalkar, who lives in the Minneapolis suburbs. In the city, she witnessed the anguish of her Black neighbors. In the country, she encountered people appalled by the protest movement. 

“There were two different worlds, one where people are fighting for their lives and another where people didn’t care,” Kalkar said. “It made me realize just how much more work needs to be done.”

That’s why Kalkar, along with a majority of her Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority sisters, decided to suspend their chapter in support of the nationwide movement to confront the legacy of racism in Greek life. Again, the decision was not easy. 

“There was part of me that felt, ‘Why do I have to give this up?’” Kalker said. “But I came to realize, this is not something I need if it’s hurting others. It’s not about me.” 

Watch Kalkar’s video here.

Seger moved off campus for his sophomore year.

Connor Seger 

Major: Fashion design, Sam Fox School

Hometown: Evansville, Ind.

What sophomore Connor Seger misses most is people — not necessarily friends or classmates, just people. 

“The isolation is hard for everyone,” said Seger, who lives off campus. “You can go an entire day without seeing another human being. Going to my one or two on-campus classes is quite enjoyable because I get to see people. Even if it’s not people I know, it feels good.” 

Seger has made mental health a priority this semester. He focuses on the basics — getting outside, exercising, eating well. He also has started to go to therapy. 

“I feel like having that has allowed me to look outside the situation and say, ‘There is nothing you can do to stop this, so just make sure you’re happy with how your life is,’” Seger said. “There are always going to be hiccups, but I want to be able to deal with it and not let it consume me. It’s easy in this situation to get consumed by stress and anxiety and feel like you’re stuck in Zoom University.” 

When those moments come, Seger sometimes rewatches his First 40 video from last fall. His friends do, too.

“It’s a sweet little cluster of memories that brings me back to that innocent and happy time,” Seger said. “In that moment, you are frantic and looking for friends. But looking back, you’re like, ‘Well, it all worked out. And this will work out.’”  

Watch Seger’s video here.

Sjarfi on the Forest Park running trail.

Astrella Sjarfi

Major: Economics, Arts & Sciences

Hometown: Jakarta, Indonesia

Online learning is tough. Online learning  at 3 a.m. is tougher.

Last spring, senior Astrella Sjarfi took classes synchronously even though she lived 12 times zones away in Jakarta, Indonesia. 

“I kept to American time, so I would be up from 3 p.m. until 7 a.m and then sleep until 1 p.m.,” Sjarfi said. “It was an experience, for sure.” 

A regular sleep schedule was one of the many reasons Sjarfi wanted to return to campus this fall. But when the Trump administration issued its directive restricting international students, Sjarfi’s entire future was thrown into doubt. 

“Those days were so incredibly stressful,” Sjarfi said. “No one had any answers. I felt like everything was beyond my control.” 

Ultimately, the administration rescinded the directive, and Sjarfi was free to return. Back on campus, Sjarfi now is preparing for the fall recruiting season by researching economic consulting firms and talking to alumni in the field. 

Her favorite activities — Ultimate Frisbee and visiting St. Louis neighborhoods — aren’t happening. Sjarfi hopes next semester she can take classes outside of her major, like GIS and Japanese. 

“If there is one thing I have now, it’s time,” Sjarfi said. 

Watch Sjarfi’s video here

Tague on the mound during spring training.

Senior Tim Tague

Major: Systems engineering, McKelvey School of Engineering

Hometown: Orinda, Calif. 

Senior Tim Tague and the rest of his Washington University baseball teammates were in Florida for spring training when they learned campus would close.  No one was surprised — other schools already shut down in response to the coronavirus. Still, they were devastated. For the first time in university history, the team was ranked No. 1. 

“We were rolling,” said Tague, a pitcher. “We felt like we had a good chance to go very deep into the playoffs and maybe win it all. It was tough for everyone, especially the seniors who had their careers end right there.”

It never occurred to Tague that he would lose his senior football season, too. 

“When baseball was canceled, I immediately started thinking about this season, expecting the virus would be cleared up by now,” said Tague, a quarterback. “And now, just like that, there goes another season. And now I’m looking ahead to the spring for baseball, hoping everything will be better. If we’re not good by then, then there is my career.” 

The good news is the football team has started practicing in hopes of an abbreviated spring season. 

 “I’m glad that we get to practice for no other reason than we get to see each other,” Tague said. “The relationships are what really matter.” 

Watch Tague’s video here.

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