COVID-19 Opinion

Save a Sunset for Me

Photos (left) courtesy of Lainie Alfaro, (right) courtesy of Charis Johnston.

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Elaine Alfaro and Charis Johnston are first-year students at PLNU. Alfaro is a fully remote student, and Johnston lives on-campus. This article contrasts their different experiences living and learning during COVID-19 and what influenced their decision to be either remote or in-person. Read their thoughts on the subject from the fall semester here.


I chose to stay home this semester because I want to visit my grandma and family, which wouldn’t be possible if I lived on campus. COVID-19 hit my family over winter break, and it was really difficult to see my family go through that experience. I don’t want to put myself or my family in danger of going through that again. 

It was a strange process to apply for remote learning. I thought all classes would have the option for distance education, given the circumstances. I actually had to switch a course section so that I would be in the class that accommodated remote learners. It made me wonder if I was only interacting with other students who chose to continue distance learning as well. I am happy to report, after a first week of classes, that I interact with a wide variety of students (remote, hybrid, commuters). I continue to have classes with students I met last semester, despite the different places we’re Zooming from. 

I am glad PLNU has some protocols like coronavirus testing to protect students, but after experiencing COVID-19 firsthand, I don’t think I could go through it again. To be honest though, I know I am missing out on a very essential part of the college experience: community.

I see classmates’ social media posts of going to the beach with their roommate or even attending the Zoom class from a bench on campus. In those moments, I really wish I lived on-campus. I do my best to reach out to people over the internet, but as everyone knows from last semester, it is difficult.

This past semester I told myself, “March. March is when I will finally move on campus.” But just like last semester, it isn’t the right time for me. I guess it’s hard to know when the right timing is in a pandemic. My timeline now is hopefully August. “August. August is when I will finally move on campus.”

I picked up textbooks from campus a week ago and I couldn’t help but fall in love with the place all over again. Seeing the outdoor hill classrooms made me feel optimistic. I would love to hear from my classmates about what that learning environment is like. 

I am hopeful and excited for what is ahead. For now, I will be a sea lion from home, but save a sunset for me! I will be there in the fall.


When PLNU announced their plans for an on-campus experience, I packed my bags. There was no hesitation. With vaccines becoming more available and guidelines easier to manage, I felt comfortable moving into a dorm with my roommate and attempting to find normalcy in life on campus. 

Moving onto campus this semester was strange in that it felt closer to the college move-in experience I pictured in my head. You know, the one from the movies where a young, bright-eyed 18-year-old carries boxes into a dorm buzzing with people and serendipitously meets all their best friends within the first five minutes. It wasn’t actually like that, but I felt energy on campus and that was new, exciting and hopeful.  

While the campus community is beginning to thrive again, it is quite daunting to suddenly have a roommate after a year of isolation. Surprise! You and your roommate are a family unit! If they quarantine, you quarantine. Now roommate conversations look like: “Don’t forget your mask on the walk to the shower” and “My COVID test took forever because my mouth was so dry” or  “I know I sneezed but don’t worry my test was negative.” 

Not only that, but post-quarantine/living-with-your-parents-social-anxiety is real. I’m finally on campus surrounded by people my age, but I don’t know how to act anymore. At the same time, I feel like we have never had more in common. We all experienced a pandemic as college students. Everyone needs more time to recharge their social battery; everyone has new routines, talents or goals; everyone has been searching for community and direction; everyone has experienced loss and sadness. 

I miss the community of PLNU that remains virtual. I can only imagine what life and energy they will bring to campus when everyone is reunited as a student body. Even so, I feel very hopeful for the semester that lies ahead. We have navigated through so much already and it is such a blessing to call a PLNU dorm room my home for the next few months. Looking back at memories from last semester, we never thought we would be able to do the things we can today: gather for chapel in the Greek, attend a club meeting, meet a professor in person or talk to friends and classmates outside of the small Zoom box. While we must still wear our masks, social distance and take precautions for ourselves and our community, the possibility of “normal” life (whatever that may be in the future) seems just over the horizon — just a few sunsets away.

By: Lainie Alfaro and Charis Johnston