By Sarah Strickland
Out of the seven billion people in the world, I think it would be difficult to find someone who would say that the year 2020 turned out the way they had expected. Universities closing, professional sports canceled, people sent to work from home and over three million people in the U.S. unemployed– all of these challenges became new, daily battles for the majority of people. For the first time in many years, COVID-19 was a challenge that the whole world faced, not just a specific country.
In March, my friends and I traveled to Bimini, an island in the Bahamas, for spring break. We had all heard the whispers of COVID-19 circulating in the news cycle and as typical sophomores in college, we believed that nothing would directly affect us. The first three days of the trip went well until we woke up on March 11 to a frantic text from my best friend’s dad explaining that international travel could be stopped due to the virus. We ended up leaving the trip two days early by seaplane out of Bimini and into Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.
Leaving spring break was only the beginning of our problems. Once entering the U.S., my friends and I received notification from the University of Georgia that our face-to-face instruction had been canceled for the rest of the semester. Most of us were planning to study abroad in various locations around the world, myself in Italy. Infinite questions consumed our minds: Were we going to be able to study abroad? Will we have to move out of our campus housing? What was going to happen this summer? We had speculated outcomes on a scale of bad to worse, and most answers to these questions leaned heavier on the worse side.
Within two weeks, I was required to completely move out of my sorority house, where I had been living with my best friends during my sophomore year. I packed my car to the fullest capacity and made the six-hour drive home to Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Luckily, I was blessed with a summer internship that allows me to continue being productive during this weird time. More recently, I have also begun picking up shifts at a restaurant in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Working at a restaurant during a pandemic has to be one of the most interesting experiences I have ever had. The staff is required to wear face masks, and we must change our gloves each and every time that we touch anything in the dining room. I am constantly surprised by the number of people taking the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, just to eat a meal out. Fewer people have been wearing face masks and even less seem to care about the social distancing guidelines. Each shift brings a new challenge while we continue to adapt to the new regulations.
Although this year did not turn out to what I thought it would be, I have definitely found things to be thankful for. Family, friends, and the safety of my home create a stable environment in such an unstable time. I think that moving forward, I will appreciate moments and experiences much more than I have in the past. Hopefully, during this time we can all find things to channel our energy towards and get through this as a community.
About the Author: Sarah Stickland is a rising junior at the University of Georgia. This summer, in addition to working at Palm Valley Fish Camp, Sarah is interning for The Volen Group.