Coming Home


Ashlee Kothenbeutel

I was in Madrid when I heard SLU was shutting down for the semester. I was visiting my friends who were studying abroad for spring break. Thursday, I was getting lunch with them, and Friday, I was holed up in my Airbnb calling, well, everyone. The world, for me at least, was in chaos. Trying to figure out if I’d even be able to get back on campus, I called the Dean’s office, who referred me to Housing, who sent me to SLU Health, who sent me back to Housing. After several lengthy phone calls, and at least three mental breakdowns, I found out that I wouldn’t be allowed on campus because I was in Spain, and I should just try to fly straight home (to Hawaii). I was extremely overwhelmed. I had been psyched to get back on campus. After break, I was going to be working in the writing center, and I had plans to go on a date with someone I really liked. I’d had an amazing break, and suddenly my world changed. I wasn’t going to be going on that date. My writing job had been switched to online. And I was supposed to go home. 

Friday, in the midst of all the phone calls, I heard that Trump had imposed a travel ban for Europe, which denied all travel from Europe to America with the exception of U.S. citizens. However, everything was still very chaotic. Saturday morning, I headed to the airport and started to travel home. I had expected the trip to take about 24 hours, and knew there would be difficulties with customs. However, things took a lot longer than expected. Many flights were either fully booked or canceled, which led to multiple layovers in random cities, slowly inching closer to the west coast. Customs was a nightmare as they tried to make sure that everyone coming from Europe was healthy. All in all, the trip took about 48 hoursfour flights and three more mental breakdowns. 

I was unable to go to campus, but fortunately, my friends were willing to pack up my stuff for me from Grand Hall. SLU even told me they’d reimburse the shipping costs. That entire weekend was all a blur. Everything was insane. I was checking my email every time a flight landed to find updates about SLU and COVID-19. 

My teachers have done a fantastic job trying to adapt to this new situation, but virtual classes and lectures cannot compare to physically sitting in a class and being wholly present. My life went from being incredibly structured with either work, classes or extracurriculars, to no structure at all with teachers still assigning work. I miss having the teachers there to clarify assignments and help if need be. It’s exhausting trying to keep a schedule while the world changes every day. The situation evolves and the cases of COVID-19 increase everyday. We never know what we will learn. This is a new situation and no one knows quite how to deal with it. It is out of our control, and that is terrifying. The best we can do is try to stay up to date with our coursework, despite not knowing what will happen the next day.

COVID-19 is a serious threat, and I’m glad SLU handled it the way they did, but I’m also deeply saddened. Over the past year and a half, SLU quickly became my home. I can describe where every hammock is on campus, tell you the best places to study and the best days to go to the Grand dining hall (tour days!). I didn’t get to say goodbye to my friends, my room or even campus. Everything that I took for granted at SLU was suddenly gone, and I’m more grateful than ever for what SLU gave me. I miss walking down West Pine, crying or laughing at 3 a.m. with my roommate and practically moving into Pius when I have a test the next day. 

I moved home and it feels like a loss, even though I move home every summer between school years. I feel like I lost SLU. I lost half a semester. I lost friendships and coffee dates. I lost my new home. I lost that community. Part of me knows that it is selfish to want that back when people are dying, losing their jobs and struggling because of this virus. But I also know that it is important to recognize our losses, even if they seem unimportant. Nearly everyone feels this sense of loss in one way or another. 

We all lost something when SLU declared they were shutting down: the sense of community. We lost the instant community that was available from living on or near campus: the clubs, the sporting events, the career fairs. But we haven’t lost community altogether. With technology more accessible now than ever, FaceTime, Zoom and dozens of other outlets work to help us maintain this community. So when I sit in my room and feel like no one is there, I remind myself of a FaceTime I have scheduled for tomorrow, or in the next week. I send a text or a meme to a friend. Now is not the time to grow distant, but to grow closer. Send a text to that one friend, or set up a massive Zoom call. Plan a way to keep in contact every week, so that you can grow. This is a difficult time for everyone, and no one truly wants to be alone. So reach out, ask how someone is doingit might be exactly what you both need.