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Some rights reserved - Chris Seaton

I Graduated in the Pandemic: Here's How It's Going

By: Natalie Burg

This is not the article I initially wanted to write. When I was asked if I would like to contribute something to Eklectish in March, it sparked the sharp tingle of excitement that every overachiever has when given a new opportunity. I bounced some ideas quickly over Whatsapp- “what do you think of a piece on a Texas oil crisis, or American music and soft power?”

After such a turbulent year, I have to admit I felt flattered that someone actually cared about what I had to say. Surrounded by old baseballs and Star Wars Legos in my little brother’s former bedroom (which I sort of appropriated as an office, sorry), I quickly started a deep dive into Texas natural gas prices and dusting off the research skills that I had honed during my Master’s program. I imagined people reading it, thinking, “wow, she really knows her stuff” (cringe) and “women actually know things about economics.”

Then, like many other things this year, that half-written draft ended up hidden in a random folder on my computer. Along with caring for family members who had contracted COVID despite rarely leaving the house, I started a new remote job. I subsequently contracted COVID, having to take a few days off in my second week of work. Thankfully, everyone in my family turned out physically fine, and my employer was very understanding. Dealing with those tangible issues was honestly not the most challenging part of my time in quarantine. During this period of silence, my thought cycle turned once again into a constant inner debate of my “life choices,” feelings of inadequacy and loneliness, followed by feelings of guilt for succumbing to self-pity.

My inner mantra throughout this pandemic has been “don’t complain, be positive.” I mean, I just finished an entire Master’s degree in international affairs and economics, and my career is centered around studying solutions to societal crises. Now that I was actually living through somewhat of a personal crisis, I told myself to keep looking forward and recognize my place of privilege. Despite my overseas research grant being delayed twice, the jungle of job applications, and the spectre of financial insecurity after graduation, I have tried to constantly remind myself of the fortunes I have and the scale of my situation. I am young and able-bodied, able to easily fight off this disease, I live in a country with plentiful vaccine supplies and three stimulus checks. I am not a political refugee, fleeing war or hunger- I have places to stay, old friends to see. I shrugged off newspaper articles about younger people feeling isolated, thinking “we just have to tough it out,” “everything is fine as long as I have my family and friends.” This line of thinking had (sort-of) helped me through other major challenges in life, from the 2009 financial crisis, to various other personal circumstances and instances of grief. Why wasn’t it working now?

I’m not sure I have the answer, as I still probably follow this same strategy for the most part. However, I do know how nice it felt when I was asked to share my thoughts. I have tried to start consciously asking those around me to share their thoughts and perspectives. I asked my 91-year-old grandpa what it was like to grow up as a teenager in WW2, finding out that he worked on farms with POWs from Germany and Italy, and later was in one of the first desegregated divisions of the US Army during the occupation. I have tried replacing Instagram for quality conversation, calling up friends instead of endlessly scrolling. I chat with my neighbors and ask my parents about their 20s. I listen to podcasts about other people's life experiences, finding it comforting to hear their voices. Zoom groups and Whatsapp are the highlights of my weekend. All of this helps me deal with the day-to-day challenges of loneliness and inadequacy that many young graduates are feeling during this unexpected past year. But at night I often end up thinking, what’s next? Is this enough?

This morning as I ground my coffee, my mind wandered back to the Eklectish article. Maybe one day I will finish the pieces on Texas and American music. But for now, in the words of one of my favorite authors, Cheryl Strayed, the goal of this writing is to make people feel less alone.

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