When rising junior Nathan Wright took off for spring break in March, he had no idea the remainder of his spring semester would be spent in his hometown of Monroe, Georgia.
Now over four months later, Wright, a political science major, has adapted to living under his parents’ roof instead of in his Athens condo, where he lived an independent lifestyle alongside his two roommates.
When the coronavirus quickly began to spread throughout the U.S. back in March, the University of Georgia was forced to make the decision of whether it was safe for students to return to campus.
To stay or go
With so much uncertainty about the virus’ growth, Wright immediately knew returning home to Monroe would be the best decision for his health and safety.
“After it was announced that classes were going online, I realized it wasn’t worth it to be out [in Athens] anymore,” Wright said. “I’m part of a risk group, so it was especially important for me to go home and stay safe.”
After living at home for over four months, Wright said that he has noticed a major shift in his lifestyle compared to the way he lived back at school. Though he has missed being surrounded by his friends all the time, Wright said he has found joy in living with his family again after spending the last two years away from home.
“Obviously being around family again in such close proximity can lend itself to some issues and arguments,” Wright said. “We may have our moments, but overall it’s been good to spend time all together, which we probably wouldn’t have gotten without [quarantine].”
Moving forward, Wright says he hopes to stay in Athens for the entire fall 2020 semester, regardless if classes ultimately move to an online format. However, being born with a complex heart condition, Wright said his decision to remain in Athens will ultimately depend on how comfortable his family is with him staying.
Rising senior and journalism and political science double major Jo Hunter said despite any changes UGA may implement during the fall semester, they will remain living in their Athens apartment. This comes after Hunter had a negative experience while briefly moving back home with their family at the beginning of quarantine.
Hunter, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said relocating back to their parent’s house was difficult when it came to focusing on their studies. With a packed household full of younger siblings running around, Hunter decided it was best to move back to Athens where there would be less distractions.
“I have a big family, and with that comes some difficulties,” Hunter said. “There was one time where I was taking an exam, and a fight broke out between my little sisters. When I asked them to be quiet, they just started yelling at me while I was in the middle of taking my test.”
During their time at home, Hunter said their mental health took a hit while experiencing the mayhem of a crowded home. Witnessing arguments among family members caused Hunter to feel saddened and unmotivated to do school work and other day-to-day tasks.
The mental toll
Katie Ehrlich, an assistant professor of psychology at UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, specializes her research on how children’s social experiences shape their mental and physical health as an adult. In terms of mental health among those who relocated back home, Ehrlich said students may struggle when it comes to reverting back to olds habits and routines.
“When you go off to college you really have this period of identity exploration,” Ehrlich said. “This is why [moving back home] can be jarring because students may feel that the identity they have at home contrasts the one they had built in college.”
Ehrlich suggests that students try to use this time in a positive way by reflecting on their lives and how far they have come since starting college. This can also give students the opportunity to think about any beneficial life changes they’d like to make moving forward.
“I think it’s important to note that parents also may be struggling through this pandemic as well when it comes to job security and health concerns.” Ehrlich said. “So, families should just have an understanding that tempers may flare and patience may be short, but that’s to be expected.”
During this time, Erhlich recommends all families recognize the need for grace in their households. With the unforeseen changes surrounding society’s health and safety, kindness and patience with one another are more important than ever, Ehrlich said.