I started my freshman year at college from my bedroom back home in Mumbai, India. Much like the majority of other college first-years, I was NOT happy about it. To say the least, I was constantly moody and had no motivation to finish my assignments. All I wanted to do was sit on my bed and watch Netflix. I couldn’t even go out to meet my friends because my country was in a strict lockdown due to COVID.  It really felt like the end of the world. But then came my “knight in shining armour,” MRADS! 

Last semester, MRADS was my virtual family and small community amidst the vast chasm of the University of Michigan. Early on in the semester, I thought I would be so disconnected from people and not be able to build any significant relationships. But boy was I wrong! We had so many virtual events organised, from game nights to movie nights to casual chats. There was always a different way for me to meet new people, even though a lot of students were on campus while I was not. My MRADS peer advisor and peer mentor were so helpful and they would regularly check-in on me and give me valuable advice. The rest of the MRADS staff also enthusiastically helped me cope with my circumstances. 

I had hoped that by the current winter semester things would be back to normal, but unfortunately, that’s far from the case. I am now on campus, but it’s very different from what I expected it to be. That’s not to say I’m having a bad time. In fact, I think these past couple of weeks have been the best time of my life! Once I moved to Ann Arbor, thousands of miles away from my friends and family, I realised that I could use this time to grow into an independent young adult. So I got into a routine of finishing classwork, working on my research project, taking time out of my day to watch Netflix, and of course, meeting my new friends (it’s great to finally see the people I spent hours ‘zooming’ with last semester). Although COVID has limited our ways of in-person interaction, my friends and I have found ways to work around this while taking our safety precautions. We find new study spots on campus, we try different food from different dining halls, but so far my favourite has been taking walks. Having come from a bustling city, Ann Arbor is like heaven right now. It’s so peaceful, not to mention the beautiful sunsets, and although most people stare at me for saying this, I LOVE the cold weather. All of these activities motivate me to keep studying and pushing myself through the semester! But there’s one thing that’s been a game-changer for me: prioritizing my health and fitness. After arriving on campus, I started going to the gym 6 days a week, and I think it’s safe to say that it's kept me sane. It definitely made me physically stronger, but more importantly, it made me mentally stronger. During my hours at the gym, I get to work on myself, block out all the negativity, and pay attention to my thoughts. 

I know that the past year has been hard for a lot of people. But it’s been full of learning experiences for me. I’ve learned it’s important for us all to find things that keep us motivated and happy, pandemic or no pandemic. I’ve learned that it’s essential to find a balance between having a social life with MRADS and working. The two have a symbiotic relationship: doing one of them has a positive impact on the other!