My name is Elena Harcken. I am 19 years old.
I was a painfully shy child, whose greatest dislike was talking to strangers and not being with my family, an obvious obstacle in meeting new people and making friends. Stereotypically, I loved reading as well. On the bus to and from school, I would progress quickly through books with a focus that made all background noise disappear. The pastime was absolutely a favorite state of mine. Needless to say, I was a quiet kid at school. However, at home with my family I was boisterous, constantly making jokes and playing with my sisters. It was quite a duality.
When I was younger, indecision dominated my choices. I could never answer those simplistic “getting-to-know-you” questions. I never had a “favorite” of anything. How could I choose my favorite song, book, or movie with the abundance of genres that are incomparable? In fifth grade, I chose orange as my favorite color because I felt bad for the color: no one else had picked it. That instance sums me up as a child pretty well.
At some point dance became a mode of expression for me. Talking was not an imperative, in fact it was discouraged in class, which created a perfect outlet for me. After 13 years of dancing and two surgeries later, I stopped, frustrated that what I loved to do made me not be able to walk in my everyday life, and perhaps more importantly, that my scope had been so narrow. I had been hyper-focused on ballet for as long as I could remember. Forced to not participate in it, I obtained an exhilarating new point of view. I found the vastness of the world, not to be a hindrance that overwhelmed me, but rather an opportunity.
The adrenaline I got from the wideness of possibility made me eager to leave Connecticut when I went to college. Fall of 2019, I went to DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. I did not experience that immediate connection some people speak about upon visiting a place. In fact, the first time I visited, I detested it. Over time, the place and idea of living there grew on me. I was looking forward to meeting new people, a task that would have horrified me as a child no doubt, and exploring new places. Both of which I did and very much enjoyed. I really loved it when I was there.
Perhaps what surprised me the most during my six months in Chicago was the cultural difference I encountered just a two-hour plane flight away from home. Everything took on a slower pace; a contrast to the hustle-and-bustle of the New England that I grew up in. As of now I am majoring in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Studies and Spanish Language, with a minor in German Language.
In response to COVID-19, DePaul shut down right before spring break, which coincided with finals week. To say the events of the world were a distraction would be an understatement. Being farther away from home proved an added, and not welcomed, complication. Most memorable though was experiencing the entire shut down of the city of Chicago in mere days. It was eerie. Within a week of finding out school was closing, the “L” was so empty that there were only about five people in every subway car, while usually obtaining a seat was a rarity. Standing on a sidewalk, I could be the only person around for three blocks. Hardly any cars were on the road. In the end, I could not fly home. My mom and sister drove 14 hours to pick me up and 14 hours back home in two days. Rest stops were limited or entirely closed, as in Pennsylvania.
It was a harsh start to all of this; it made it all feel very real and personal. I could go on about the numerous existential crises I have had since then, but that is unnecessary. I must be honest: the last four months instilled a depth of bitterness in me that I am not proud of. It feels as though my positivity and optimism have been replaced with cynicism and negativity.
In the past, when I have thought about the future it has been in months and years. However, the term future has been reduced to the very next day, that is if I want to be productive. I do not think it is necessarily a bad thing either; it has allowed me time to give myself a reality check. I have developed a sense of agency to act more genuinely. Being timid or faking is no longer an option when I can see how quickly it can all be destroyed. I hope that in the future we can look back on this period with any bit of humor and hopefully more humility.