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10-2-20-covid-19-table-alone-waterbottle-person-max-mester
Credit: Max Mester

With nearly 3 million vaccine doses administered per day in the US, we are growing more optimistic than ever that this troubled episode of our lives will soon be behind us. Indoor gatherings are slowly becoming more socially acceptable. Universities across the nation, including Penn, are resuming in-person instruction this August. And, contrary to the recommendations of public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, some states have even lifted mask mandates. For the most part, this gradual transition to a post-COVID-19 world has understandably been met by widespread enthusiasm. An inescapable feeling of pandemic fatigue is rendering people impatient, restless, and more eager than ever to gather in groups without stigma or the risk of contracting the virus. However, our desire for normalcy regrettably translates into a longing for the past, high anticipation for the future, and outright demonization of the present. I fear that we are too willing to put the pandemic behind us and risk abandoning some of its indispensable lessons.

My first takeaway from COVID-19 is that we should always be in search of new pastimes. What it originally meant to be a senior in high school was to go on day trips, attend wild parties, and cycle through a series of shared hobbies with friends. What it meant to be a senior in 2020 was to personalize and redefine one’s concept of fun in quarantine. When the first wave of the pandemic struck Seoul in January, and classes haphazardly moved online, some friends and I each bought a Nintendo Switch and decided to play the latest version of Pokémon as a means of revisiting our childhoods. Our casual playthrough of the story lasted at most 12 hours, and we were soon ready to move onto the next game on our list. However, I funnily enough grew attached and dabbled in Pokémon’s competitive scene for a few months, devoting hundreds of hours to building teams for online tournaments. 

For me, quarantine was characterized not by laying in bed all day, but exploring an endless stream of intriguing pastimes. A random YouTube playlist of famous piano concertos was enough to reignite my passion for classical music, motivating me to dust off my family’s piano and learn a couple of recognizable pieces. After a night indulging in "The Queen’s Gambit," I played a few hundred games with my new Chess.com account. Even when quarantining turns into a distant memory, we cannot understate or forget the value of so-called “quarantine activities.”

My second takeaway is that we can always find more time for family. When I had a free night on my hands in high school, I opted to spend time more often with friends rather than family. Lengthy conversations with my parents would sometimes only compound the stress from a demanding workload or the strenuous pressure to be a high achiever. However, two online semesters, coupled with my city’s stay-at-home order, gave me the opportunity to patch up old wounds and make lasting memories at the simplest of settings like the dinner table. In quarantine, time I likely would have otherwise spent playing poker or going bowling with friends was spent more meaningfully. In a post-COVID-19 world, we will regain opportunities to leave our homes and enjoy the company of friends. Nonetheless, the pandemic has hopefully taught us that our new normal should make more room for family time. 

My final takeaway is that we should appreciate solitude. We, as a society, regard outgoing people very highly, and those who are more reserved are deemed unconnected and withdrawn. Our social conventions dictate that we should put ourselves out there and take every opportunity to meet new people. However, this mentality, which overemphasizes the importance of exiting one’s comfort zone to socialize, undermines the ability for introspection and self-improvement. Alone time affords us the chance, for example, to express ourselves through Spotify playlists, write an entry in a dream journal, or carry out home workouts. By social distancing from others, we are essentially self-distancing, too — taking a step back, examining ourselves from afar, and critically reflecting. In the aftermath of COVID-19, we should not need an excuse like a quarantine to have some time to ourselves and, in turn, search for fulfillment.

It goes without saying that varying aspects of our lifestyles have changed as a result of the pandemic. Some practices, such as mask-wearing, will be temporary. Others, such as the transition of some jobs to online platforms, will be more permanent. Less conspicuously, yet more importantly, COVID-19 is altering the way we view ourselves and our relation to others — as I see it, for the better. 

ANDY YOON is a first year in the College and Wharton from Seoul, South Korea. His email address is andyy327@wharton.upenn.edu.

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