Thirteen-year-old Nishtha peers into the future to visualize how life in a new university, in a new campus, among new friends will shape up in 2021. Will the post-pandemic world allow dreams to take wings?
In 7 days I’ll be flying to my new life, where I get to start over somewhere fresh. Ever since the day I got my final grades and I found out that I can attend my dream school, I’ve been desperate to leave. It’s been a whole year since the pandemic has changed lives. Oh gosh, the day my mother found out about that? She set me stay-at-home orders before my state could set stay-at-home orders! She’s always put me first and made sure I could never get away from her. If there is anyone who isn’t excited about me leaving, it’s her. The thought of me not being in the same house for 3 months terrifies her in the worst way possible. I still don’t understand how I didn’t get separation anxiety when I was younger considering the fact SHE couldn’t let go of me on my first day of preschool.
Though I feel terrible for the Class of 2020 who couldn’t even end their senior year properly, I’m extremely happy that I was able to graduate with my friends. It felt like I was in a movie. For my whole life I was waiting for that moment. Everything I’ve ever worked for has led to me throwing my graduation cap in the air, surrounded by the people I love.
We have already packed up most of my room. Everything down to the last shelf. It feels weird to see the room that I’ve been in since birth so empty. Kind of like how my mom is feeling. I’m her only child and she’s spent the last 18 years having her life revolve around me, and now I will leave her hands. I do feel bad for her in the sense that, in some ways, she is losing her daughter. But what am I supposed to do, not get a degree? And even worse, I’m attending NYU. New York was practically the epicentre of COVID cases last year. The point is, my mom would kill to make sure I don’t attend NYU but what’s stopping her is the fact that her daughter has a lot of potential to be successful and happy. I will be joining the competitive theatre programme at Tisch School of the Arts, a world-renowned gateway to Broadway. This was an offer that even my mom could not refuse. Without it, you can say bye bye to the Big Apple.
A lot of my friends are also attending their top choices for schools. But you can say that they were jumping up and down when they heard I’m going to NYU. Celebrating with them was one of my favourite nights of the year.
My parents dropping me off at the airport got more emotional than I expected to be. I even cried. It was such a bittersweet moment, I couldn’t let go of them. But then I thought “I’m getting closer and closer to the place I want to be”, so that helped me sleep through most of the flight. Of course it was easier because there were empty seats on either side of me, a new social distancing measure implemented to avoid another wave of the virus.
When the plane started to take off, I saw my entire life flash by. San Francisco shaped me into the person I am today. Though I’ve made some great memories in California, I’ll be making a lot more in the place I’m destined to go.
Technically, school doesn’t start for another 2 weeks, but I came up with the idea to go early just to get a feel for what New York is like. Besides, my aunt is there ready to help me settle in and explore the city. I also want to meet my roommate. We talked on the phone when I was back in San Fran but I can’t wait to see her in person.
Walking into my aunt’s house for the first time in 5 years was such an unimaginable feeling. The last time I went, I didn’t even want to be there. I wanted to spend the break at an acting camp with my friends, but my mom thought it would make a good spring break to spend some time with family, especially since she hadn’t seen her sister in a long time. After that trip, my aunt became my favourite extended family member. She has reassured me that I can tell her anything, from the best to worst things. Whenever I got into a fight with my parents, I would storm into my room and after crying alone, I would call her telling the entire story. When I hear the best news ever, I would scream over the phone about how happy I am. So telling her I got into NYU was just the icing on the cake.
“Hope!! You’re finally here!” said my aunt.
That soft voice I remember is all I needed to hear to get me running through the door. We embraced as she told me how grown up I look. I brought my suitcase and freshened up.
Later, I went downstairs to see coffee and bagels. “Come sit, I want to talk,” my aunt started.
“About what?” I asked, wondering how I could be in trouble when I’ve only just arrived. “Everything! College, home, new friends,” she explained.
So, I told her what’s been going on at home, how desperate I’ve been to leave California and that I’m glad everything is somewhat back to normal after that entire pandemic. Then I told her how tired I was and that I might just sleep most of the day and say hi to my uncle later. So that’s what I did.
When I woke up the next day, I sat down and talked to my aunt and uncle more. I preferred catching up with them in person rather than over FaceTime. But that was something I had to get used to when we were on lockdown. They of course were waiting forever to ask about my dating life. To their disappointment, I gave them the same answer as every year. I’m far from being interested in being with someone until after college. When I have a good job, live in a nice place, I’ll give them the answer they want.
My roommate is arriving tomorrow and we agreed to meet on Friday at a cafe just to get to know each other a bit more, and then on Tuesday we will move in. Of course, I had to call my parents to let them know I wasn’t bothering anyone and I was happily settling in.
Gosh, how am I starting university in just a few days? Meeting my roommate Amelia was okay. I mean, she’s really nice and great but just the complete opposite of me. For starters, NYU was her third choice. She unfortunately got rejected from both Berkley and Tufts. She’s majoring in Economics and can generally be a bit shy towards new people. With me, I don’t think she had a choice because we are going to be sharing the same room!
We’ve just settled in our dorm and she’s hoping to introduce me to her course-mates soon, so I think I’m off to a good start. Joining the Tisch theatre program will help me boost my acting career and open doors to plenty of opportunities, so I am genuinely looking forward to starting my classes.
My first week has been completed and, while I’m happy to be done, I’m less happy with what I’ve been told by my professors. I didn’t know the pandemic was still on people’s minds to this extent and that it would affect my experience at NYU. This entire time I thought it was over, but one year later, we are very much still in it.
As I’ve made new friends, enjoyed most of my classes and gotten comfortable in this new environment, there are things I am unable to do. In our first ever introduction to this program, we were told that all of our final performances would be virtual or, in some occasions, with a smaller audience. They went on with how it’s still important to social distance, even after being confined for almost an entire year. They say we need to make sure to be as careful as possible now in order to avoid a new wave of COVID cases.
This was sad. I was looking forward to performing in front of a huge crowd and having them all applaud for me. We still need to do some daily temperature and symptom checks, in case there are students who are carriers of the virus without even knowing. The worst part is, I can’t talk about this sort of thing with my own parents on the phone or when I see them again. They are just going to argue with me about the fact that they were right and I should’ve stayed in California like they said from the beginning. I was the one who wanted to chase my dream by going to New York for university. But now I’m second guessing everything I stated. Of course, I went straight to my aunt and asked if I could be with her over the weekend but she and my uncle were unfortunately out of town and couldn’t help me with this. So the second person I wanted to confide in was Amelia. She helped a bit and suggested that I come with her to a college house party her friend invited her to. I guess distracting myself with small social events became my new medicine.
Now if I’m going to be completely honest, at first I wasn’t sure how this was going to help. ‘Feeling a little disappointed? Go to a place, meet new people and tell them all your worries and pain.’ I decided to talk myself out of thinking like that and convinced myself that it doesn’t have to go that way. I got myself ready and we left. Amelia said we could walk there because it’s so close and get some dinner on the way.
By the time we got there, we were one of the last ones to arrive. When I walked in, I was taken aback by how small the party was. I came here thinking college parties would be bigger, especially in New York, and they would carry on until the early hours of the morning. That was not the case at all as I was told that we now have restrictions on the number of people allowed in one space. I later found out that a few others were invited but didn’t go in fear of catching the virus.
Still, everyone there seemed talkative and outgoing, a bit like me when I was in high school. I chatted to a few people and even gave my number to some of them in case we wanted to see each other again. I think I was fine for most of it, until people started talking about the pandemic again and what their lives were like last year. The whole point of me leaving my room was so I could get this virus off my mind, but people kept on talking about it. That’s when I got nervous and didn’t want to be there anymore. Acting like a little girl, I asked Amelia if we could go back. She came up with an excuse and took me home.
When I entered my room I reflected on the night. I went to that party to escape the disappointment I was feeling from my classes only to be even more let down by this experience. New York was supposed to be my escape from my parents’ paranoia but now I know there are people here just as scared as they are. Would this be my life for the next four years?
That question kept me up for many nights. But in that time I’ve tried to change my attitude. Whilst we were in a crisis last year, I was expecting so much at the wrong time. I thought that my college life would be perfect. But now that I’m here I’m realising that while I thought I was ready for New York, in many ways, New York was not ready for me. The city and its people have not healed from the traumas and hardships of last year. It would take some time before we can all move on and I have to be patient and understanding of that in order to support my community in its healing process.
So, I tried to focus on building meaningful relationships with a few people rather than putting myself and my goals first, the way I’ve done my entire life. I’ve realised it’s not all about the big parties and the glamorous Broadway lifestyle, but instead it’s about being there for others and helping further their growth in kind and encouraging ways as I push myself to become someone anyone could go to. It’s taken a lot for me to change this mindset but being here I’m recognising the importance of a strong and positive community and the value of caring friendships.
My Christmas break is here and I’ve learnt so much from everything, not just classes and lectures. I thought I came to NYU to learn how to be a better actress and open myself up to new opportunities. What I’ve learnt in my first semester is far more valuable than that.
Resilience, friendship and empathy are all lessons school has not taught me, but living in a socially-distanced New York City has. New York may have stopped me from doing the things I desired but it didn’t stop me from growing. I originally didn’t want to go home. I thought that if I did, I would have to confront my feelings about my parents and my dreams. But here I am, on my way home, with a mind full of new perspectives and a heart full of hope.
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