Shannon Carney ‘23, Megan Cislo ‘23, Daniel Friday ‘23, David Horne ‘23, Madison Mueller ‘23, Zach VanHekken ‘23, and Annie Kate Watson ‘23 found a unique way to spend a remote semester.
By Zach VanHekken ‘23
I was in Costa Rica on an Alternative Service Break trip when I received the email announcement that my freshman year would be cut short; we were being asked to leave university housing in the spring of 2020. Needless to say, my friends in the Park Class of 2023 and I were extremely disappointed. The community we were building was going to become virtual. While we were very grateful for the time we had together, I knew it was going to be hard to leave.
A couple of weeks after returning home, I FaceTimed my friend David Horne ‘23 and we discussed how the conversations across social media forums were speculating that we wouldn’t be on campus for the entire semester when we returned in the fall. We knew we had to come up with an idea so if the university closed, our friend group wouldn’t be separated across the state of North Carolina and the U.S. I pitched to David the idea of traveling the country. We could use our Park Scholarship living stipend to stay a couple of weeks at a time at different Airbnb rentals and do all of our online classes together while forming a tight bubble. That was when David coined the phrase “Study Domestic.”
Later that week we explained the idea to our prospective travel companions, Shannon Carney ’23, Megan Cislo ‘23, Daniel Friday ’23, Madison Mueller ‘23, and Annie Kate Watson ‘23, and they were intrigued. It was fun to think about it, but we had no idea what the fall semester would have in store for us.
As social media had predicted, we didn’t last very long on campus. When we got the email about reducing on-campus housing in late August, Study Domestic quickly changed from an idea into reality. Within 48 hours, our plan was beginning to form. Discussions ensued about where we should go: South Bend, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were all considered. After much deliberation, Nashville, Tennessee, won out as our first stop, and one week later we set off on our nine-hour drive.
I can’t tell you how happy we were when we finally arrived in Nashville. To us, it meant our adventure had truly begun. While in Nashville we learned how to function as a COVID safe bubble and we got to have some new experiences. From going to parks in the greater Nashville area and exploring The Gulch while savoring some amazing cronuts, to taking pictures by murals and enjoying way too many takeout meals of Nashville hot chicken, we developed wonderful memories of our time in Nashville.
The adventure of getting to live with your best friends comes with great learning opportunities. From taking Zoom meetings in closets or on top of laundry machines, we became more adaptable. We figured out how to manage our time so we could have fun together while maintaining our academics, but most importantly how to live with six other people.
After an incredible month in Nashville, it was time for us to travel seven hours north to the much colder climate of Chicago. The first couple of days in Chicago the biggest trial of our trip occurred when we realized the WiFi that had been advertised wasn’t working. For Monday and Tuesday of that week, we struggled to manage online school with no home WiFi, but this led us to try new things. We went to a local coffee shop and a Chicago public library to get our work done. Through this, we discovered we were much more resilient than we thought.
Personally, I was excited about being in Chicago. My southeastern friends experienced snow in October (being a Michigander I grew up with snow around that time of year), they saw why I always refer to Lake Michigan as a beach even though it isn’t the ocean, we got to visit the University of Chicago’s campus, and we explored the riverwalk and downtown Chicago, all safely of course! We were extremely fortunate that our rental was about a 15-minute walk from Lake Michigan so at least one walk a day allowed us to see the crazy waves or play Spikeball in the nearby park.
“By doing Study Domestic, we were able to make the best of an uncertain and challenging virtual world,” David Horne reflected. “I’m really thankful that I got to spend time living with my friends and safely exploring different cities.”
Study Domestic was truly the epitome of making the best of a not-so-great circumstance and I am so fortunate to have friends that were willing to take this adventure with me. Without the Park Scholarships program, I would not have these people in my life nor the ability to spend my semester doing something so innovative. I am so thankful to Park for putting these people in my life.
I think Shannon Carney summarized our whole experience very well when she said, “To me, Study Domestic was more than a living arrangement for the semester. It was a lesson in adaptability, learned from countless exams and Zoom calls taken from on top of the washing machine. It was a lesson in prioritization, remembering that there are times to set the computer aside and get out of the house, even just to go for a walk. It was a lesson in teamwork and communication, having my life completely intertwined with six others for two months. But above all, it was about making the most of the cards we were dealt. I am proud that I did all I could to cherish my college experience and make memories during a difficult time.”