An Unconventional Semester
By Mikaela Carrillo '21
Illustration by Claire Lin '23
I remember the buzz and rush of early September 2019. I was moving into Grad Center, Tower C, Room 332. Heavy boxes lined the sidewalks. Students and parents shuffled in and out of buildings. An empty parking space was in high demand and low supply. Reuniting with sunkissed friends, taking in the groups of students congregating on the green, and reminiscing about past times as I walked through the campus, it was the sight, the sound, the atmosphere of the Brown community converging once again onto the hill we considered home for most of the year.
This September I packed up my bags, said goodbye to family, and moved into my off-campus apartment in Providence—but many of my friends did not. We are scattered—across time zones, counties, states, and countries. In the greater College Hill area, a haphazardly occupied space, the influx of panicked juniors and seniors with no longer any place on campus to call their home is matched by the invisible outflux of those who, like my original roommate, never came back to claim their off-campus space.
When I go to class, I do not travel to another building but type in a Zoom code, connect a fraying power cord and pray my spotty Wifi doesn’t crash. My education is delivered in 2D and like lecture recordings, I watch it in the comfort of my own home...or in its distractions and challenges. My three-year-old laptop looks like it is on its last leg, wheezing from overuse, and I am anxiously eliminating every possible audible notification on it to avoid any further embarrassment while speaking in class. Many of my friends, like my classes, are only a click away—but so is Zoom fatigue.
You, like I, may feel cheated out of an experience you deeply invested in. You may feel frustrated or even angry. You may feel disappointed, disillusioned, or defeated. I struggle to embrace the new and not lose heart. Sitting in my room, so close to campus but taking all my classes online, I see what could have been and I wrestle with discontentment. But I know God is teaching and refining me. As much as I am tempted to sink into discontentment, I cannot seem to shake what I know is God calling me to be content in every season and to rejoice in trials, knowing it produces endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5).
This unconventional semester can be sanctifying—if we let it. It presses the well-known and yet subconsciously-rejected fact that we are not promised much in this life. While we usually coast along with a degree of security about what lies next, we actually are not guaranteed many of the things we feel assured will never change—including academic success, financial stability, and health, let alone a conventional college experience. Placing our hope and source of satisfaction in unpromised things will leave us deeply disappointed.
As Christians, we can anchor ourselves in the truth that our hope and satisfaction are not grounded in the things we do or the experiences we have, but in the living God who is our creator, savior, and sanctifier. We can rest in knowing that for those who love Him all things work together for good (Romans 8:28), including this unconventional college experience. When we live into this reality, we do not have to linger in what we have lost or been cheated out of; rather, we can lean into what lies before us this semester, expectant of how God will work this broken experience for good. We can have perseverance and hope in knowing that our afflictions are sanctifying us, refining us into the image of Christ, and preparing for us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). We can submit to God’s sovereign will, trusting that if we saw the whole story we would ask God for the very same challenges he has given us.
So although we are in discomfort, scattered, taking classes from our rooms, and trying to cope with the loss of what we thought would never change, let us not turn a blind eye to the good that can come from the broken. Let us not be so stubborn as to refuse to open our hands to the goodness that God can bring in even our roughest seasons.
While we may be separated from many of our closest friends this semester, let us turn our eyes to those who we are surrounded with. Lord, teach us how to serve those you have placed us with this season, humbly and with love (Galatians 5:13).
While we may find many of our normal routines overthrown and daily joys stripped away, let us lean into Christ, who sustains us. Jesus, strengthen us to be content in every season, whether in plenty or hunger, abundance or need (Philippians 4:11-13).
While we may wrestle with disappointment as things are canceled or put on hold, let us not become idle, but with diligent devotion seek to know and love our God more fully. God, help us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ our Savior (2 Peter 3:18).
Sitting here again in my room, after the end of a busy first week of classes, I am particularly aware of how much is different. I feel the tension in my gut—the yearning for what was and the conscious decision to embrace what is. I let out an exasperated breath: I don’t want to do this semester. But I know I can and I know I will, with God on my side, directing my steps and opening my eyes to what He wants me to learn through this time. In this unconventional semester, through uncertainty, change, and confusion, may our eyes ever be on our Lord and Savior, our All in All.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV)