Written by Vedika Dayal.

As I sat at my desk for the sixth hour, struggling to stay awake through my last Zoom lecture for the day, there was only one thought going through my head: This cannot be the future.

It’s something I’d heard a lot before the outbreak of COVID-19–online school (if not online everything) was going to soon become the new normal. But experiencing the realities of it has been eye-opening. Despite how advanced our technologies today are, online school has diluted my learning experience in a way I’d never expected. I miss the small things about learning in-person—from the walk to Haas when I would reflect on my classes thus far (and get some much-needed oxygen to my brain) to seeing my professors’ passion for their subjects in real life (ie. non-pixelated).

Still, I’ve found many things that make it easier to engage with online classes and stay content while studying remotely. One of the most important things for me has been routine. When Berkeley first announced that we would be having online classes, I intuitively had visions of sleeping in and taking Zoom calls in my PJs. Admittedly, this was the reality of my first few days of online classes. It was made easier by the fact that I flew home to New Jersey, where all my classes were three hours later than normal because of the difference in time zones.

However, I quickly found that waking up at 11:40 am was not a good strategy for focusing during my 12 pm class. Despite having always been the kind of person who despised routine (my philosophy was that routines make life boring), my mind searched for routine during an otherwise chaotic time.

And so routine I created. I began waking up at 10 am (which was pretty early for me), exercising, and then getting ready for the day. Even if getting ready meant switching PJs for sweatpants, I found that changing out of clothes I associated with sleep helped me stay more alert during the day. I also began making coffee for myself after lunch. I switched out my old mug for a mason jar and found that the more aesthetic drink made me more excited to work.

Of course, my philosophy of routine being boring still plagued the back of my mind, and I did quickly find that the routine was getting a bit dull, though effective. To make it more exciting, I began changing little things about my daily life, anything from making a matcha latte instead of coffee to wearing jeans instead of sweatpants. These little periodic changes have kept my days from becoming too predictable, while still maintaining the basic structure of my routine.

My routine also involves taking time every day to think about things I am grateful for. I often reflect on them while I’m making coffee (or maybe while I’m making a matcha latte, if I’m spicing my routine up). Today, I thought about how I’m grateful for our faculty here at Berkeley. Everyone—from my middle-aged professors to my GSIs—has been optimistic and flexible with using digital technology. I’m grateful for the people that are fighting COVID-19 at the frontlines, like healthcare workers, and those that are fighting it more indirectly, like grocery store workers and companies practicing corporate social responsibility (Gap, Inc. is using its factories to make masks and scrubs!). And maybe most importantly of all, I am grateful that I have a beautiful campus in California waiting for me when this is all over that I can look forward to coming back to.

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