By Melanee Terry
While many students living on campus are adapting to changes because of COVID-19, commuter students like Justin Ouellette are also facing challenges as they come to campus. Students from across the country attend UMPI, but much of the student body population is made up of people living in Aroostook County. A senior English major with a concentration in Professional Communication and Journalism, Justin is from Caribou and, like many other students, he is currently dealing with changes to his education due to the global pandemic.
The pandemic looks different in every state and region across the country, but in northern Maine, the impact is much smaller. Since the County has very few cases, the pandemic does not look as drastic. In order to ensure everyone’s safety, though, UMPI has strong health and safety protocols in place and is requiring students to wear face masks at all times while on campus.
“I don’t particularly enjoy wearing a mask, but it’s definitely worth it for the safety of the campus community,” Justin said. “Wearing a mask and remaining socially distanced is a small sacrifice for the safety it rewards.”
Similar to many other college students who do not learn effectively on Zoom, Justin does not enjoy online learning. Although Zoom has become a big part of everyone’s life recently, for him, being able to learn in an in-person and visual environment makes it much easier to learn a concept in class.
“I much prefer in-person classes. I learn best by seeing something taught, then trying it for myself. In online classes, I find it much harder to communicate. I can’t always point to something in my essay or share my screen, so things can get tricky,” Justin said. “I worry for people just beginning their college journeys as they won’t have the accessibility to many resources that I did in my first couple of years.”
With many places closed, people are no longer allowed to relieve stress and improve their mental health in ways they are used to. Justin’s mental health has been affected due to some of the changes in his environment. He is no longer able to find his moments of escape outside of school, which is something that he was used to before COVID-19 hit.
“Normally, life outside of school is full of little escapes that help my mental health. They allow me to put my schoolwork to the side for brief moments of relief,” he said. “It is much harder to find these brief moments of solitude when my classroom is also where I relax. It can be difficult to find a balance that appeases both sides.”
Justin enjoys spending time outside of school with friends by travelling to big cities like Boston and escaping for a night. Due to the pandemic, though, many larger cities have a lot more restrictions than the County. These cancellations and restrictions do not allow Justin to have the same social life he is used to.
“My social life has been decimated by COVID-19. There is very little my friends and I have been allowed to do. We usually go to restaurants and bars all summer, but with COVID-19, they have been closed and events have been cancelled,” Justin said. “We’ve still managed to see each other and hang out a few times this summer, but we were drastically limited compared to most years.”
Justin’s work-study position on campus is in the video production studio in the CIL, but that has been restricted during the pandemic. His job outside of campus for Channel X Radio includes selling advertisements to people and their businesses, which has been hit hard by the pandemic these last couple of months.
“Due to the economic effects of COVID-19, my customers’ advertising budgets have been non-existent,” Justin said. “For me, this has meant a massive cut in income for months. Since I work on commission, this means I’ve had to do two or three times the work to earn half of what I was earning before.”
Despite such difficult months, Justin has been finding positive things to do with his time, including going outside as much as possible. He gets fresh air by riding his motorcycle and playing some rounds of golf. Justin also feels that life will most likely not go back to what it was before. He said he’s beginning to accept this new normal that we are living in and it has brought him peace by accepting the unfortunate circumstances.
This pandemic is affecting everyone differently, especially UMPI students who come from all backgrounds and places. Justin has not only learned about himself, but about how to adapt to a global pandemic. Justin is hopeful for society and what the world will look like after COVID-19.
“For myself, I think COVID-19 has forced me to be adaptable. When you don’t know what lies ahead, you have to prepare for any situation, and that’s what I’ve been doing since mid-March,” Justin said. “I think the pandemic will bring a lot of good for society. People will be more prepared and the United States as a whole will become more self-sufficient.”