Reflections on a Semester from Home

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By: Aki Akhauri

JOURNEY

            This semester was very rough. For the first half, when we were having in-person meetings and recording shows, I was too anxious to go out and interview people for my packages and VOSOTs. Because of that, I wasn't able to get a lot of my assignments in on time. I was going to work with Professor Collins on that, but pretty much immediately after we decided that, classes got moved online, so we weren't able to do it.

            I don't feel like I accomplished anything in this class, but I'm sure I would have if we'd had more time. I did finish my news updates though.

AS AN ASPIRING JOURNALIST

This semester has been a lot different for me as a journalist outside of this class. First of all, I can't do my job as a photojournalist for the Daily Illini or the Illio Yearbook anymore because I'm with my family and they don't live anywhere near the University. I would really like to do my job (which practicing social distancing) but I don't have a say in the matter.

I've been working on a short documentary about the impact of coronavirus while I'm here. I'm planning to use part of it for my documentary production class. When I first got to Florida in mid-March, my dad agreed to drive me around town so I could get some b-roll of what it looked like outside. At that point, people were being a lot more cautious than they are now. There were hardly any cars on the road that day. I think they've gotten more used to it now. The streets are never that empty anymore.

Since my parents live near Orlando, we decided to drive through the Disney area. We kept to the public roads. We found that it was pretty empty except for the people just driving through the area, even though Disney hadn't been officially closed yet. I got some b-roll of the relatively empty place. We drove up to Disney Springs, where there are a bunch of shops, to see if that was open, but a Disney employee told us we were trespassing so we had to leave. I would have argued the point but it was obvious my dad was scared, so I didn't.

Other than this documentary, I've been doing a few other multimedia-related things, but they're not related to journalism. I don't feel like a very good or active journalist right now. I wish I was doing more to cover the coronavirus.

AS A STUDENT

As a student, having to complete my classes at home has been more of an inconvenience than a serious problem for me. I've done online classes before, so it's not like that part is anything new. One problem I have with the classes is that some of my professors have never taught online before and have no idea how to do it, so I end up having to study everything on my own anyway. I'm used to this too, though.

Another problem I've had is that I can't interrupt a lecture to ask questions anymore. I can do that in my class that meets through Zoom, but I can't do it in my class that's taught through audio powerpoints. The powerpoint class is the one I usually ask a lot of questions in. I can email the professor my questions and she'll respond, but it's not the same. I end up talking myself out of a lot of questions.

I was also worried about whether I'd get to go back to my apartment at all before I had to pack up and move somewhere else. Thankfully, I got accepted into the grad program at UIUC, so I get to live there for another year. It's sad that I'll never be able to see most of my friends again, though. I was prepared for that, being a senior and all, but I wasn't prepared for it to happen before May.

AS A CITIZEN

            As a citizen, the pandemic has been mostly annoying. It's annoying because people don't follow the guidelines, which is just making the pandemic worse. Would it kill them to not go to the beach for a few months? A lot of us want some sense of normalcy back, but we can wait.

We drove through downtown a few days ago just to get a change of scenery. We didn't get out anywhere. We just drove. When we got downtown, we saw a bunch of people not wearing any Personal Protective Equipment or even practicing social distancing. I was really annoyed by that.

I went to Target yesterday because my insurance only allows me to pick up my medication from CVS, and the CVS in this area is inside a Target. There were a lot of people there not wearing any kind of face covering. I know masks are hard to find, but something is better than nothing. My dad, my brother and I wear handkerchiefs over our faces because we don't have masks. My mom wears her thinner scarves.

I know some people can't wear masks for medical or sensory reasons, but I doubt it's this many people.

I want to be able to go back to my apartment in Illinois, but I won't be allowed to until things get better, and I hope things will get better by June or July, but I can't tell. I spend a lot of time window shopping online for things I want to decorate my apartment with when I'm able to go back, like I did the month before I moved into the place. I've also been sewing a lot of decorations. I did a lot of sewing just to keep my hands busy during online classes. It turns out a lot of other people are also taking up sewing now though, since I can hardly find anything in the craft section of Walmart anymore.

One good thing about having to stay home all the time is that my family is spending less money. Of course, we still do online shopping like we did before, but we used to go to the shops whenever we felt like it. We didn’t always buy things, and we never bought anything expensive on a whim, but the little things add up eventually.

TECHNOLOGY

            Technology has made quarantine a lot easier to deal with. I don't know what I'd do to keep myself occupied without my laptop or my phone. There's only so many books I can read and walks I can take. I do spend time with my family, which they are happy about, but I can't handle the amount of social interaction everyone else seems to be having with theirs, even on my best days, so I couldn't spend all that time playing board games or anything like that. Sometimes I spend hours at a time writing in my quarantine journal. I'd have a lot less to write about if it was just me and my family.

''''''''''' I'm still able to finish my classes, and I can talk to some of my friends online, so it keeps things interesting. I'm lucky that I have no more group projects and the people I need to get in touch with mostly live in the same time zone. My brother, who studies TV and Radio Production, is not so lucky, and it sounds like a pain. His college also decided to shut down while he was home on break, and he’s not even allowed to go back to the dorms to pick up his textbooks.

We’ve also been talking to our extended family in India more, since it’s no less convenient than talking to people who live nearby. We have to do everything through Zoom nowadays and I don’t think I like it. I particularly don’t like that my bath was interrupted for the call two weeks in a row, and I didn’t know in advance that the call was even happening.

            At the very least, I can keep myself busy with schoolwork and my documentary. I wouldn't be able to make my documentary without technology either.

            As a photographer, I've been taking some time to practice my nature and macro photography. It turns out my phone camera is better for that stuff than my DSLR is. My DSLR doesn't have manual focus, so it's harder to get clear close-up pictures. My phone doesn't have manual focus either, but it doesn't try to override me when I tap somewhere on the screen to tell it where to focus.

            I've photographed a lot of flowers, insects, and spider-webs. That's really fun, but I don't need to be quarantined to do it. I do it all the time, even when I'm walking home from class. It's good to have time to practice though.

REACTION TO CORONAVIRUS

            When I first heard about the coronavirus, I didn't think it would get as bad as it did. The last pandemic I remember was the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, and that hardly impacted my life at all. I was in India at the time, and no one I knew got H1N1. Schools and workplaces didn't shut down. The 2010 Commonwealth Games went on in Delhi as planned. It was barely a blip on my radar. At first, that's what I expected Coronavirus to be like.

            I didn't understand how big of a deal it was until I found out the University was canceling in-person classes for the rest of the semester. My dad called me in a panic, and so I started panicking too. I wasn't panicking about the virus, though. I was panicking because my plans for the rest of the semester had just gone out the window. My dad put it into words.

CHANGING REACTION

            I panicked about this off and on for a month. It was more of a low-grade panic than what ''''I felt when my dad first called me, but it was still there. I ended up having a huge fight with my dad. We didn't talk for almost a week. We talked about the whole situation afterwards and I feel less anxious now.

VIEW OF SITUATION

            I think initially, I mostly thought of the pandemic as a regular citizen. Sure, it was newsworthy, but I didn't think much about it because it wasn't impacting my life yet. Now, I'm thinking about it equally from both perspectives. I want to be covering the virus and its impacts more because it's important for everyone to know about it. People need information about the impact of the virus and where we are in the process of stopping the pandemic. I also wish the whole thing would end already so I could go back to my regular life.

LESSONS AND SKILLS

            I can't say what led to my success because I did not succeed.

CRITICAL THINKING

            Critical thinking is important because it helps us come up with backup plans when our original plan didn't work out. I wasn't good at coming up with backup plans this semester. Critical thinking is also useful for solving a problem quickly, like if we are in the newsroom and the teleprompter isn't working, and we decide quickly to use paper scripts instead.

            This is especially important in these times because we never know what will come next. We constantly have to change our plans and solve problems on the fly.

SELF-CONFIDENCE

            Self-confidence is important because if you don't have at least a little of it, you'll end up like me and not get anything done. Self-confidence is good when you know your limits so you know when and how you have to do things to get the assignment done on time.

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?

            I've learned that working in a team can be fun sometimes. Well, I learned that before this class, but it's what I remember most about it.

WHAT AM I MOST PROUD OF?

THIS CLASS: I am most proud of how I was able to help out in the newsroom, whether it was writing or editing CNN VOs, teaching someone how to run playback, or running camera. I like helping.

THIS SEMESTER: I am proud of myself for being able to keep up with classes even though we have to do them remotely now. I know a lot of people are having trouble with that.

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