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Melody Lu / Staff Illustrator

I stood in front of the mirror analyzing whether or not my mom jeans and crop top gave off friendly, cool-yet-chill vibes. My roommates didn’t want to go to the fifth meet-up organized through the “Transfers in the City” GroupMe, so I plucked up the courage to ask my neighbor upstairs if she wanted to come with me. The week prior, I had flown to New York from Michigan in my hazmat suit that I bought from Amazon for $20. Now, I was in a hot, sticky apartment just off of Broadway and La Salle, eager to make new connections.

I couldn’t stop scrolling and re-reading messages in the group chats, glancing over last minute cancellations and messages from people saying they were running late. As I walked through the Columbia gates, my heart rate slowed down as I saw a bundle of students haphazardly scattered on the steps of Low Library. Behind my mask, I put on an exaggerated smile and made sure to speak loud enough to be heard from six feet away. After what seemed like no time at all, people began to rush away from our socially-distant hangout, saying that they had to leave, but that it was great to meet everyone, before they dispersed across the campus.

Later that night, I called a girl who I met through Barnard’s Millie’s Meets Zoom meetings for transfers.. I eagerly greeted her, talking about the campus meet-up and discussing people we thought were cool from Instagram and potential new friends. I showed her my apartment in all of its dusty and unpacked glory, and she talked about how desperately she wished she was in the city with me. Every five minutes, we couldn’t help but say, “I can’t wait to finally meet you in person.”

The majority of my first month in the city consisted of this uncomfortable way of connecting with others. The meet-ups were just as odd as the Zoom meetings, and it took me a couple of tries to adjust to this new way of socializing in my new environment. Awkwardness aside, I knew what I was getting myself into coming in as a transfer student during a pandemic—which brings with it particularly unique responsibilities and restrictions.

Questions about the decision lingered in the back of my mind for months: Did my irrational decision to move to an unfamiliar city and room with people I had only direct messaged on Instagram mean I was putting myself and others in danger, given the ongoing pandemic? Even though I’m still unable to fully dispel these doubts, I can confidently say that I don’t regret my decision. I was able to meet new people and make a small transfer bubble in New York City, connecting with others who came from different places to get here.

Making friends in any big city is always daunting and so is acclimating to a new college community as a transfer student. However, I have encountered people from so many different backgrounds throughout this process—learning about where they came from, where they call home, and why they decided to take a blind leap of faith and transfer during this insane time—and I know it was worth it. I’ve met people through FaceTime and Zoom, and while I’m not sure they aren’t floating heads, it’s strangely comforting to know some of my closest friends in college are those I haven’t met in person yet. Communities are built by shared experiences, and friendships aren’t defined by physical connection. I underestimated myself and others in my community’s ability to connect with one another.

I had a choice: I could mourn the loss of what could have been and stay in the comfort of my past school, saving myself the difficulty of changing my college experience, or I could embrace this altered reality and explore the city and campus while wearing a Columbia-emblazoned mask. I don’t know if I will ever be able to attend school in post-COVID-19 circumstances, but I also know the virtual community I now belong to is an irreplicable one.

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