This interview was a discussion between, myself, Grayson Schrader, and my friend, James Wagher. Both of us are students and commuters at Southern Wesleyan University. We catch up and talk about what life is like for students transitioning to online classes, dealing with COVID-19, and other experiences during this time. Some content was cut for the purposes of making the interview more concise and streamlined.
What was your initial reaction when transitioning to online?
Grayson: I know a little bit of your reaction, but I want you to tell it from your perspective.
James: My initial reaction was not very happy at all. I was very upset because one; I had already paid for my semester at SWU, which is already extremely expensive, and I knew that transitioning to online classes that I was not getting the full benefit of what I paid for.
J: And secondly, I live at home and we live in Belton, which is in the middle of nowhere. They don’t run fiber to our house or any kind of landline internet service.
G: You live on a farm, pretty much.
J: Yeah, we have five people running off of a little hotspot.
G: Yeah, it’s kind of a miracle we’re even doing this right now.
J: Yeah, I’m surprised it’s working.
G: Yeah well for me, my reaction was at first was like- I didn’t think it was going to be permanent. Like I thought, “Oh, this will be a week or two thing,” you know? And then suddenly it kind of got- it got bigger. And then when I had friends that were like, “Yeah, I’m coming back to school to get all my stuff,” because like, they hadn’t officially announced it at the time, but it was pretty clear that we weren’t going to meet again.
G: So people were coming back to their rooms to get their stuff. I’ve only been to campus once, and I think it was like a week or two after everything had happened right after spring break. And I mean, campus was absolutely dead. And when I went there, honestly, I was pretty bummed out because I felt like this had been one of my more fun semesters. I still have a lot of work to do and it was pretty stressful, but I got to hang out with a lot of my friends, including you, a lot more, and I felt like I had made a really good community this semester. [It] had kind of been difficult for me because my freshman year I went to Anderson [University] and I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends there, and then I made some last year- my sophomore year- but this is the year I really felt like I made a lot of connections at school. I mean, we’re a pretty small school so it really sucked when I was like, “Okay, well, I’m back to being trapped at home and feeling isolated.” I’m an introverted person; Me and you, we both like video games and movies and stuff like that. But at the same time, I really like hanging out with my friends so that was probably the biggest disappointment for me. I didn’t mind online as much, although it [can] suck but the main thing is I miss having a community around me and having something to keep me regimented. Nowadays I sleep ‘til noon every day. My sleep schedule is a wreck.
J: Oh yeah.
How have you been adapting to the sudden change?
James: Well, like you said, we live on a farm so it’s not that big of an issue with social distancing or anything because we don’t live near anybody. But the main difficult thing has been at work. We’re an “essential” company because we make gearboxes for Amazon and for medical fields and stuff like that, so we’re kind of transitioning into… still having to go to work but still having to maintain safety regulations. We have to stagger our times we come in and times we leave; We have to stagger times between break; We have to get checked out by a nurse every time we come to work and every time we leave.
Grayson: Oh, wow.
J: Yeah, it’s just a process. And then like you said sleep schedule- I get off work and I try my best to stay up for my meeting on Monday which is at 2, and then I try my best to stay up until 5 o’clock and then I crash and sleep. But then the next day I’ll wake up at like 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning and I’m like, “Well what am I going to do now?” I last as long as I can and then crash midafternoon- and I wake up starving because dinner has been made after I’ve already fallen asleep, so like today’s the only day all week I’ve had a full meal. It’s ridiculous- it’s crazy.
Grayson: Has anyone actually at your work contracted the virus?
James: I don’t think so. If they have, they would have gotten sent home and told not to come back. But there aren’t any cases I’ve heard of or they’re really trying hard to cover them up.
G: So my work was shut down… mine was shut down probably two or three weeks ago so I had to go through the whole filing-for-unemployment process. I got news yesterday, though, that our work is supposed to be opening back up, which, honestly, I’m not really looking forward to because I was really enjoying not having to go to work…. [for people who don’t know] I work at a golf course. I haven’t been spending a whole lot of money so I haven’t really needed a reason for money other than I really want a car by my senior year- there’s a Camaro I want but that’s beside the point. But how I have been adapting to the change? It’s given me a lot of time to recuperate and kind of focus on myself and just my assignments and stuff. I had kind of gotten behind on a lot of stuff but had school been going on now I probably would have been significantly more behind and distracted. So I still have a lot of assignments to do but, you know, we have so much more time now that it’s easier to get stuff done, especially when literally all I’m doing is going to my friend’s secluded neighborhood which is gated off and he has a gym in his basement. We workout together and we go run; that’s how I’ve been staying in shape because normally I work out a lot. And then just schoolwork and watching movies and playing games…. And also, I’ve been doing the SWU Student Activities live streams that they have every Wednesday. They’ve been alternating between Bingo and Trivia. So I’ve been doing those every week because it gives me a way to stay connected to the school, which is pretty nice. And even Wes Pate, who’s the Student Activities Director, I believe, is doing these “Chats From a Distance” thing, and it’s really cool to get different people on there. It’s the best way to maintain some contact, and honestly, I really enjoy having our Zoom meetings sometimes with our classes- our Media classes- because it’s like the only time you’re all really together just talking to one another and seeing each other again. We always have fun in our classes.
Has it made life harder or easier? Or about the same?
James: It’s about the same really. Harder in a sense of like, not knowing what to do with all this time. I know I have schoolwork but then I get most of it done and I don’t feel like going ahead and doing the next days. Just kind of finding time to be alone is getting weird because me alone with my thoughts, that’s not a good thing.
Grayson: Yeah, I’m the same way. It’s weird because you’re also more prone to procrastinate so it almost feels like we don’t have school. I’m like, “Oh yeah I don’t have to do my schoolwork anymore,” but you do and that can be really problematic.
James: Yeah, at work they’re like, “Can you come in for overtime? We need you for overtime.” Because everyone on our shift is in mandatory overtime so they’re like, “Oh, James, why aren’t you coming in on overtime? You don’t have school anymore.” I’m like, “I kind of do.” They’re like, “You can work on Thursday!” I have two Zoom meetings on Thursday, I can’t come into work. I would if I could but I can’t.
G: We have more time but at the same time it’s not like school is completely gone out the window. But as soon as it happened I immediately kind of went into summer mode, but I’m like, “I can’t do [that].”
J: I don’t like teaching myself especially [because] I have Quantitative Reasoning, and I went from the teacher teaching in a way that’s practical to a website that’s just throwing formulas at me. I’m having to plug these answers into a website that’s super picky about how I place these answers….
G: I think it’s different for every person when it comes to these classes because for me, personally, while I can sometimes be mildly stressed, with my classes… I don’t have to be as worried but I know a lot of people who been having breakdowns because now that they don’t have as much of a schedule, it’s even more overwhelming to keep track of things, you know? Some people have been like, “Yeah I had a breakdown the other day” and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, really?” I’m not having that experience, but it’s different for every person.
J: Yeah, it’s like you either have to have that regimented schedule all the time- because like right now I have my whiteboard right here on my wall completely clustered with everything I’ve done but I still don’t know what I have to do.
G: Oh, there’s honey on [the] slats of my window. That’s a cool thing; or not a cool thing. I’ve also been having to deal with- it’s not coronavirus that’s making life harder but-
J: Tornado; bees!
G: Yeah, [there’s] coronavirus and then I lost my job because of that and then we had a freaking tornado which ravaged my town- like buildings destroyed; it’s insane. And then right after we got our internet back, [and] our power back… my mom [tells me], “Yeah the bee guy is coming tomorrow!” I couldn’t live in my room for another night. So there was a giant bee infestation in my room so it made things difficult. Everything just happens at once. I don’t know why but it just does. I think [the whole situation] in some ways has made life easier and in some ways, it’s made life harder. I think life has a way of balancing it out.
Do you miss in-person classes?
James: Yes, a lot. First of all, because I paid for in-person classes, so I don’t enjoy self-teaching and I also don’t enjoy being by myself at home having to learn this stuff. I also just enjoy being around new people and being able to meet new people makes those classes more fun and enjoyable and I learn better in that environment. Here it’s just like, “Oh my gosh, I have to get this stuff done and then I have to do this,” and I’m not enjoying it so I’m not learning it. All of the stuff I’m doing now, it will be out my brain by the end of the year.
Grayson: No, I feel you. I don’t know if I miss the in-person classes as much as I just miss-
G: Yeah just people in general. And part of that was the classes, you know, taking classes with people. I’ve already got classes planned with people to make up for lost time and stuff we didn’t have so, you know, next semester I’ll have a lot more on my plate. I’m also thinking about- I didn’t tell you this but last night on was on that SWU Student Activities thing for trivia night, and next year I’ll be a senior and you’ll be a junior. And so, I don’t like the thought of me being a senior because it feels like I haven’t been here that long.
J: Yeah, you just got here.
G: Yeah, so I’m trying to figure out some way to stay at SWU for another year, not for school, but I’ve thought about possibly going into an ARD position or something like that just to stay around that community for a little bit longer and so I can find my footing- and also try to help build up my podcast. But anyway, I sidetracked a little bit. I’m thinking about building an intramural Quidditch team…. People wanted it in the [Student Activities livestream] chat so I’m thinking I may talk to some people and get a Quidditch club going.
What has the extra time allowed you to do that you couldn’t before?
J: Well mainly working overtime, making a little bit more money. But also just enjoying my hobbies that I didn’t get to do when I was at school because, like, working on the weekends and then school throughout the week, it was like I had no time. The only thing I could do was sleep. Yesterday I forged a little bit; I actually forge-welded two metals together which I had never done before, which I was super proud of.
Grayson: Oh, really?
James: Yeah, I did a sanmai construction billet. And then like working on- I’m trying to start a YouTube channel for gaming. I got a whole bunch of clips together and I’m actually motivated to start working on that and doing really well… So, I get to do that now and having free time I can go on Amazon and by stuff that I want, like this microphone stand that I wanted. For a really long time I was just- I was worried about not having enough money to save up for school. Just being able to enjoy the little things.
G: Oh yeah, definitely have more time to chill out and enjoy things. Like I said, you and I have very similar hobbies, so I’ve just been catching up on movies and trying to plan out stuff for the future of the podcast. [I’ve been able to] play more games and catch up on games that I haven’t played. Like, I remember literally the week this thing happened I was in the middle of playing Uncharted 4. I was only, like, a couple of chapters in, and that week I was like, “Well I have all the time in the world now!” So, I beat it in two days. I was like, “Man, I miss that.” I miss being able to beat a game in a day or two. With college, I couldn’t do that.
J: Yeah, you saw I was playing Until Dawn; I beat that in one night. I never got to play that game.
G: It’s crazy, like, I think we at least have to appreciate that side of things. We always complain, like, “Oh, I’m stressed. I don’t have enough time to do this; I don’t have enough time to do that.” And now it’s like, “Okay, we have so much more time.” And even though it sucks not being with people, we can at least appreciate, like, the good things about it, you know?
Is this situation positive or negative, in your opinion? Or is it positive on some things, negative on some things?
James: I think, overall, it’s positive…. Just like you said being alone, being able to accomplish things that you haven’t been able to do before. And also, just to hang out with family- your close family. Like, even though my brothers are annoying, and they love walking into my room while I’m trying to do a Zoom meeting…I miss being able to see them.
Grayson: Yeah, exactly. I felt like this semester I definitely didn’t get to see my family as much. I felt like I was constantly apologizing like, “I’m sorry. I’m going back to school.” They’re like, “No, go hang out with your friends- it’s fine.” And now I’m like, you know, they were right… I think overall, it’s a mixed bag of things….The weirdest thing is whenever that tornado hit my town or my neighborhood- just the entire area in general- it almost felt like coronavirus disappeared because everybody was in social contact with one another…. Like there is a billboard… that was [completely] twisted. The Food Lion sign was knocked down. 7/11 shut down for a day or two. There [were] just so many trees and [debris] that had fallen on peoples’ houses and power was out. But it was also cool because, like, all the community had come together…. I woke up the next day… I had just totally forgotten about quarantine and lockdown and everything. There’s some good things about it, though, because, I mean, there was a plant that- Borgwarner- and it was completely ravaged and it was pretty much empty or [the side the tornado was] because of the quarantine so actually lot of people lived because of that.
How can we see Christ being shown throughout this virus? How is this virus bringing Christ forward? How can we show Christ to others during this time?
Grayson: I think we touched on it a little bit with the whole tornado situation… but I think how you can see God in this is how, first of all, we have a lot more time to engage with him… I’m reading this book right now, and it’s not blatantly a Christian book but there is some spiritual elements in it, and it’s for one of my classes. It’s called A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life and I’m really enjoying that right now because it feels like it kind of gives you ways we can connect more with ourselves and especially just connect with God during this time. And it sucks because we can’t really go to church or anything like that, but I was talking to one of my friends and he had gotten a tattoo of a blood moon…. He was talking about it… and he was like, “Yeah, I’ve been trying to look up a meaning for this whole blood moon. I didn’t just want it to be a cool tattoo, I wanted it to have meaning.” And he was saying how blood moons usually mean when something is wiped away whatever survives is important and integral to your life, you know? And its kind of tied into the whole pandemic thing. It’s like this is kind of a season of God letting us know like, “Hey, there’s a lot of things in your life right now and … what lives through that and is staying through that after all of this passes is what’s important; and what doesn’t then it’s something that wasn’t meant to be, you know? And that could be a hard truth for some people but… in some way [it’s] a bit of a cleansing, which sounds kind of messed up when I put it that way but it is a way to like wipe away all of these things and get rid of unnecessary distractions and stuff. Now, like we both said, we have time to focus on the things we love to do and our schoolwork and our family; and those are really important. I think when life catches up with us when tend to put a lot of those things to the side and it negatively impacts us. Even though there are some things, like I miss my friends and relationships and hanging out with people dearly, I also feel like I’ve become a much stronger person independently and I think that’s definitely a way we can see God shine through this whole thing.
James: Yeah and to touch on what you said with friends like some people might be stuck in toxic friendships and they had no way of getting out. This was their way to distance themselves. And some people might have been overwhelmed with schoolwork and been like, “I can’t do this. I’m thinking about turning God away because I can’t handle all this stuff at one time and be involved with God.” Just like blessings in disguise; that plant being shut down and then the tornado coming through- things you wouldn’t think would be important actually turn out to be. I guess when God is trying to tell us, “I know your life is busy but here’s a little shutdown period.” And like you said with the blood moon, you see what’s important. It’s kind of like when over the summer I to counsel at [a] Table Rock camp, and it’s like that whole week your whole focus is God. But then you go back to life and then it slowly fades away. You said with that blood moon, what gets washed away and you see what stays. It’s kind of like all of that unnecessary stuff gets washed away and what’s left is what you focus on so that might be better for most people.
Grayson: Yeah, I think it definitely ties into that question of, “Is this positive or negative?” and I think there’s a lot more positive than we actually may realize.