CoFo coaches Bria Henderson and Brandon Paz sat down with CoFo student Tara Huynh to explore her experiences as a student during virtual learning. Tara is a freshman in her second semester at Texas A&M University at College Station and she is actually the first in her family to attend. Unlike the infamous Aggie legacy students, Tara is the first and only family member to diverge from that path; some of her older siblings actually attended the University of Texas in Austin. Tara is currently majoring in Allied Health and has hopes of being accepted into A&M’s nursing program next semester.
Last year, as early as January, the first coronavirus cases were being recorded in Texas. It was last spring on Senior Skip Day that Tara found out that the short remainder of her time in high school would be entirely virtual, complying with new quarantine policies. In the middle of working a hectic part-time job, applying for scholarships, and hoping she got into the university she wanted, Tara admits things were already going by in a blur for her. “I got hired at Walmart right before the pandemic started, and then after my break was over, I worked up until the day before I left for A&M. It was crazy!”
Life as an Essential Worker
As an essential worker, Tara was glad she still had employment but said the high-intensity workdays and the surge of cases in Central Texas when the pandemic first happened pushed her to take a brief break. “This was before people had to wear masks in the store when my coworkers would cough on me as a joke. My parents didn’t want me to work, for both my safety and my dad’s since he’s diabetic.” Tara acknowledge’s she’s a person who already likes to keep busy but says her one regret is not taking the time to slow down and enjoy the traditional high school experience. “There was no prom, no graduation–and, of course, getting your diploma in the mail just isn’t the same. I didn’t get to say goodbye to other students or some of my favorite teachers.” While school remains one of her top priorities, Tara says she’s learned to take more advantage of opportunities when she’s able to be safely social, something she’s started to implement at A&M.
Building On-Campus Connections
When she first got to campus, Tara remembers being very intimidated by the size of the school and wasn’t sure how she’d find her people when most social events were cancelled or virtual. Taking her classes online, she says, was ‘easy’ at first, but draining. She couldn’t feed off the energy of other students and professors on Zoom. “It’s harder for people in my generation to be socially distant; we’re not used to having to be so cautious. You feel like you have to be overly responsible, but, at the same time, there’s this added peer pressure to ‘be chill’ that starts to override the desire to be responsible.” For this reason and many others, Tara says she is grateful for her Lohman Learning Community at A&M, that has allowed her to meet like-minded people. Having an established connection to her school early on eased her nervousness. “They give you ‘How to Be an Aggie 101’ advice, which I needed! And I feel like they genuinely care about me! When I got corona last year in the fall after a family get-together, they were some of the people who came to visit me in quarantine.”
Yes, you read that right. During her first semester on campus, Tara had to be isolated in a special room on the dorm’s floor and recalls it giving her perspective on how people were being affected by the virus. “You never know about how awful being isolated is, until it happens to you. You feel so alone; human beings are social creatures. I felt like a burden when I had to ask people to bring me my lunch or when I had to call up all my friends I’d seen to tell them to get tested.” But Tara reminds me that she has a fantastic support system composed of family, friends, and even her professors. “They’d all come by to see me, ask me if I needed anything, and would actually do me favors. It made me feel better to ask for help and taught me how to.”
When asked what has given her the most hope during the pandemic, Tara immediately lights up. Her learning community at A&M has given her a few volunteering opportunities already to help those who have been most affected by COVID-19, and she believes that those efforts are inspiring. “Volunteering has given me the opportunity to see the selflessness of others up close. People who continue to wear their masks, people who are now volunteering to help people get the vaccine. It all reminds me that there are people, like me, that want the pandemic to be over and they’re willing to do their part to make sure that happens.”