It is pretty daunting to put the last year into words, but I think that it’s time for me to at least try to do so. About one year ago, everyone’s plans, goals, and overall, lives changed forever. Yet at the same time, as I’m going on walks in Audubon, trying new NOLA restaurants, and FaceTiming family and friends, it feels like nothing has changed at all.
Virus. Masks. Vaccine. Pandemic. Social-distancing. Quarantine. Lockdown. These words will undoubtedly always cause us to reminisce on the year 2020. The night of my 22nd birthday, March 11, 2020, as I enjoyed beignets and champagne with my closest friends, something was a bit off. Rather than playing Taylor Swift’s song “22” and making plans for upcoming graduation celebrations, brunches, and date parties, all we could talk about was COVID-19. That day, schools across the county, including Tulane, had announced that they were closing and switching to online teaching. With Giovanna, Michael, and Josh all in town visiting for their spring breaks, I knew that something was strange when all of our universities announced closures and their parents urged them to head home as soon as possible. While I will always be grateful for this one last chance to bring all my Tulane friends together, I don’t think any of us could have predicted what came next.
Though I had planned to stay in New Orleans with friends and continue with my senior year as normal despite not doing school in-person, this fantasy quickly came to an end. I packed up as many of my belongings as I could, thew or gave away the rest, and road-tripped back to Roanoke. Within three days time, I went from buying an air mattress and all the groceries I could to ditching it all and spending a full day driving home with a friend. I survived a two-week quarantine in my room at home, as I continued my classes via Zoom and re-learned how to drive on the streets of Roanoke, and once those fourteen days were over, nothing actually changed except the contact I could have with family members. This continued for months and months– through Easter, Mother’s Day, my graduation from Tulane, the Fourth of July, and the rest of summer.
As we learned more about the coronavirus, a few things did eventually change. By the end of the summer, we didn’t need to Clorox wipe our groceries anymore before bringing them indoors. I started lifeguarding at the gym once it opened at a reduced capacity. I even got my freelancing writing business to become so successful that I decided it was time to change some things up. Once I was making enough to pay for rent and groceries and my level of angst was through the roof, I knew it was time to get out of the house and do something new. A year ago, I had no idea I would be spending a fifth year in New Orleans writing, exploring the city, and trying out whatever new work opportunities that came my way, but perhaps this was for the best and taught me more that I could have learned from rushing into an entry-level job.
Afraid of flying on a plane without an N95 mask and eager to show my family my favorite spots in New Orleans after our graduation weekend plans were cancelled, I convinced my mom and Rose to drive down with me. We packed the car with toilet paper, paper towels, and hand sanitizer, in addition to all of my normal belongings, and headed down South. We spent a night in Tennessee, where I left my duffel bag in the hotel parking lot, and then of course we had to do some sightseeing in Laurel, Mississippi, where the show Home Town is filmed. With so much free time this summer, my mom and I watched a lot of HGTV and other reality shows, so we just had to see Bird Dog Cafe and Ben’s Workshop for ourselves. Eventually, we made it to New Orleans, and after a few days of snoballs, take-out dinners, and reunions with friends, I was once again on my own in NOLA.
Thankfully, I wasn’t too alone here. Living with Riana became a constant sleepover party, complete with lots of wine and cheese each French Friday, and homework dates with Emily, Creole Creamery outings with Laughlin, and Tulane games and dinners with Sydney, Maya, and Estee kept me plenty busy. Though we couldn’t go party at bars, eat indoors at restaurants, or even hang out at friends’ houses like last year, we found numerous ways to still have fun. When I wasn’t making up for lost time socializing, I was writing for travel blogs, realtor magazines, marketing companies, and more. In a search for even more to do, I finished my TEFL certification, began teaching weekly ESL classes to immigrants living in New Orleans, and tutored students at a local French immersion school, Lycée Français.
This immersion school, where I had completed my first service-learning my freshman year of college, became a much more integral part of my daily routine when I accepted a job as a long-term substitute English Language Arts teacher for the virtual Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade students. I will never forget ending my day with ABC Mouse videos, spinning like the Earth during the astronomy unity, or having the daily interactions with each student that kept me laughing and feeling fulfilled. I can confidently say that none of may friends or family expected me to do a stint as a kindergarten teacher, but this was undoubtedly a fun experience that greatly strengthened my leadership, critical thinking, public speaking, and teaching skills.
Once Thanksgiving came around, most of our Tulane friends headed home for an extended break. Riana and I took this opportunity to visit her family in Baton Rouge and try out more of the restaurants on our New Orleans food and drink bucket list. It was bittersweet when I headed back to Roanoke in December, mostly because of the two-week quarantine I was met with when I arrived, but like every other time I’m home, I loved it so much I didn’t want to leave. Some of my favorite memories from this Christmas were decorating cookies with my sisters, dressing up for Polar Express Day with my virtual students, going on our annual pajama ride in dragon onesies, exchanging gifts, watching the ball drop, and witnessing Mojo steal and eat my dad’s Chick-Fil-A sandwich. I also watched way too much 90 Day Fiancé, my newest guilty pleasure. When mid-January hit, it was time to head back to New Orleans.
Spring semester is always fun at Tulane, apparently even when you’re taking a post-grad gap year. Between CycleBar classes, “parties” with my pod, sorority fam outings, and other events, I feel like my social life has been doing pretty well despite continuing to adhere to strict coronavirus-related guidelines. My appropriately-themed wine and cheese tasting birthday party had to be one of the biggest highlights of the year. When my contract ended at Lycée Francais, a conveniently-timed internship offer convinced me that it was time to try something new. Since the end of January, I have been working full time as an intern for a D.C.-based boutique public relations agency, Curley Company. I love the company culture, the relationships I’ve built, and even the work I’m doing so much that I just extended the position through mid-August. So that brings us to what seems to be the most common question of the year, “What’s next?”
When I say that everything, yet nothing, has changed, this is what I’m talking about. In my last blog post, I discussed the feeling of being in limbo, not wanting to commit or rush into anything, and here I am, over a year later, with the same feeling in my gut. Part of me feels obligated to spend some time abroad, mostly because I wasn’t able to last year and I have no idea when the next opportunity will be for me to do so. I applied to English-teaching programs in France and Spain, and the idea of traveling and working on my language skills is undoubtedly appealing to me, so maybe this is my next step. Yet on the other hand, I’m loving the policy communications work I’m doing, as it seems to perfectly combine my interests while also allowing me to make a real impact, so maybe it is finally time for me to jump into a contract with an agency or publication in D.C.
I hate to seem just as indecisive as I was a year ago about what is coming next in my life, but I think that one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the past year is that this is okay. I never expected to take a gap year, put my career goals on hold, or try new things, but this year has taught me so many things about what I really do value and enjoy. While the COVID-19 pandemic came with such loss and devastation for so many people, I’m just happy be healthy, employed, and making the most out of each day I have.
Check out that vaccine card in the last pic!
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