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Personal Essay: COVID-19 pandemic makes Mikaila Donaldson bid a frustrated farewell to UMBC

When I made the decision to move across the country to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County two and a half years ago, I never thought I would be filled with as much frustration as I am now. As a student from Oregon, I was excited to branch out and create an experience that was going to be all mine, with no ties to familiarity. I thought it was so fun to learn new things about Maryland, like the importance of Old Bay and the state flag. I was having the best time making friends and memories. Throughout my time, I’ve continued to vocally express my thankfulness for UMBC and the programs I’m involved in that have made my college dreams a reality. I proclaimed my love for UMBC every chance I got. However, since the outbreak of COVID-19 and following administrative decisions, I’ve found myself replacing that love with my anger.

I’m angry because I was told on Wednesday, March 11 that I had to leave campus by Saturday, March 14. I don’t think this anger is worth sugarcoating because the idea of an unexpected three-day move out is my reality, and the reality of so many other out-of-state students that are here but never heard. After receiving an email of ResLife’s plans, I was relatively calm. I talked with my parents and was planning on just staying here. Over spring break, I’d wait for everything to blow over so that things would be better once everyone got back. At least, that was the plan until I was told it wasn’t really a choice and I had to leave campus immediately. 

Within two hours, I had a flight booked back to Oregon. I was frantic, not knowing if I should pack some things or everything. Was I going to be back in three weeks or three months? Did I really need to pack all my textbooks? What other important documents would I even have the slightest chance of needing? I asked friends, classmates, professors and staff what they thought would happen. I gathered nothing substantial, especially from residential staff, which is where most of the uncertainties lied. 

I know I’m not in the worst situation. In fact, I’m really lucky. My family has the means to get me home, and I feel safe going home to them. My home city of Portland hasn’t been heavily hit, and I’m not a senior, so my last year of college isn’t being robbed from me. I know UMBC’s staff is working hard to make quick decisions and that professors and other staff are just as impacted. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t also feel failed by the school and their last-minute, unclear decisions. 

I know once my anger passes a sadder emotion will take over. I’m worried about that moment when my feelings will flip. It’ll be more tolling on me emotionally as my feelings of loneliness will surely increase. Before this semester, I’d been away from UMBC for nine months, as I studied abroad in the fall. The whole time I was gone, I was itching to get back to Maryland. Everyone in my abroad program, my family and my friends all knew how badly I wanted, needed, to be back. I’ve truly had the most incredible experiences here and my life has been forever changed by the UMBC community. To be leaving so quickly is the worst heartbreak I’ve ever had. 

I think it’s difficult for in-state students and the UMBC decision makers to understand the emotions of leaving Maryland. But I uproot my life so often it feels unsustainable at this point. I’m always leaving or always going and always saying goodbye. Leaving either my friends in Maryland or my family in Oregon is something that never gets easier. I feel like at some point, I can’t get too emotionally grounded in either place, as I know I’m going to have to say goodbye one day. Who wants to live their life like that? The constant feelings of goodbye are always difficult and this one is even harder, not knowing when I’ll be back.

I don’t want it to seem like I’m complaining, ungrateful or that I’m in the worst situation there is. That’s not my intention. But when will UMBC realize that they have students that can’t just leave? Yes, UMBC is known as a commuter school, but there are international and out-of-state students here too. I love UMBC and think it’s where I belong. At this point, I’m not sure UMBC feels the same way about me, as I’ve felt a total lack of support from decision makers. Nobody has been able to answer my questions about what I need to do. Professors have been incredible in all of this, reaching out and making sure students like me are going to be okay and have the resources for success, but they can’t support the students on their own. UMBC really needs to step up and lead in this uncertain time. Students depend on them, and without strong leadership and care, I worry the community I love is one that I won’t be able to reliably go back to for some time. 

I wish I had a better grasp of the “right words” when writing this. I wish I was more eloquent in my feelings and reflection on these frantic goodbyes, sudden “last times,” and a whirlwind of emotions. For now, I know these feelings are more important to express than to beautify. Times are hard and scary and sad. But while my opinions are long and complex, my goodbye to the UMBC community isn’t, as I know I’ll be back soon. For now, I’ll say a difficult goodbye with love, and most importantly, with grit.

Written by Mikaila Donaldson, a junior history major with a secondary education certificate.