As we mark a full year (and counting) since COVID19 upended all of our lives, we asked Anteaters to share their reflections on how these past months have changed them, and what new habits or practices they’ve developed. It has been a year of challenges, countless pivots and finally, some hope. Here are some testimonials from UCI staff, faculty and students as they look back on a life-altering year.

In 2020, COVID-19 was the least of my problems…but made them all worse.

I started the year off in Cambodia, fighting a parasite.

In March, the U.S. State Department told Americans abroad to come back now or stay indefinitely with no help from the embassies. My husband and I packed up or sold everything we owned in three days and took the last flight through Taipei.

I was grateful to start working at UCI in July, but buying furniture as COVID cut off supply chains was painful.

Then the fires hit, and I experienced the worst asthma flare up of my life, unable to even sit up for two weeks.

Then the most “2020” moment of my year: I left my husband. It wasn’t because of the pandemic…but the transoceanic move, living with parents, paltry job market, and daily inconveniences from COVID-19 didn’t help.

He kept the apartment, so I was homeless during the pandemic for a second time. I so appreciated UCI’s understanding as I tried to figure things out.

I valued stability before 2020, but COVID-19 has been a reminder of how much more stressful and challenging life is without it. As our world continues down Climate Change Road, I hope governments — and employers — recognize the importance of safety nets, gradual changes, and understanding how difficult times like these can be.

Photo courtesy of Katie Teixeira (pictured, L)

Coming of age as a nurse during a pandemic was devastating, but the timing could not have been better to validate my choice of career. As nursing students, my cohort had multiple opportunities to volunteer over this past year performing COVID-19 screening and administering COVID-19 vaccinations, in addition to our 12-hour clinical shifts in ICUs, Medical-Surgical units, Labor & Delivery, and more. This past year has been an immense challenge, especially as a nursing student, but with each passing obstacle, I have developed admiration and pride for my cohort for handling this year with dedication, humility, and adaptability. Witnessing the university’s thoughtful, innovative, and progressive response to the pandemic helped me grow in my appreciation of how UCI’s nursing program empowers its students to contribute to the health and well-being of patients and build caring communities.

Lilibeth’s delicious creations

March 2020 was a month full of storms. I remember it poured hard my first day of quarantine and remote work, and it didn’t stop pouring for a while. I realized I would have to weather it all out on my own, detached from my support system, so I decided to spend the rest of lockdown (what we then thought would last mere weeks or — worst case scenario — until Summer) with my parents and my younger siblings and move in with them. Inspired by my “Great British Baking Show” binges and storms that transformed into cozy rainy days, I started to learn how to bake. I found that working with my hands and making sweet treats for my loved ones brought me great peace, especially as our hopes for the future crashed around us. Those moments of “breaking bread” with my immediate family, in a time when I could lose them at any moment, are now some of my most cherished memories. 2020 will always be bittersweet.

Overlooking UCI Research Park from the Ecological Preserve. Photo by Ian Parker

I am a professor at UCI, and also an avid landscape and wildlife photographer. I normally travel the world to find wild and beautiful places to photograph, and early in 2020 I joined a voyage to the far side of Antarctica to photograph Emperor penguins and the huts from which Scott and Shackleton began their attempts to reach the South Pole. I returned home on March 9th, and two days later the campus went into covid lockdown. For the past year I have traveled no further than walking distance from our home in University Hills. To keep my ‘shutter finger’ exercised I began a project to photograph the buildings and landscape of the UCI campus. This has now grown into a website with more than 400 photos. You can view them here:

After cleaning out our entire garage over two weekends in March 2020, my husband, Gary, and I started looking for fun activities to do at home. We binge-watched Tiger King, played dominoes and did a puzzle. I had given Gary a membership in ANCESTRY for Christmas 2019 and he decided to start researching his family and he took the DNA test, which came back with a few surprises such as discovering he was part Norwegian. But nothing prepared us for the BIGGEST surprise of the pandemic, which happened on January 4th when we received a call from our niece, Judy, who lives in Colorado. She asked Gary if he had traveled to New Orleans in 1972 when he was 21. Gary said yes, and Judy responded, “Then I hope you are sitting down. You have another son who is 47 years old and lives in Denver and he would like to talk with you. He got a DNA connection notice from Ancestry.”

Sure enough, Gary had enjoyed a three-day romance with an 18 year-old girl from North Carolina. They never traded contact information. She went home, married her then boyfriend and was sure the baby was his. They divorced when their son was still very young. We heard all about this when we connected with new son, Rich, an attorney, and his family that evening via Zoom. He looks exactly like Gary and our son, Cory, and he was absolutely thrilled to know he has a “real dad.” His two sons, 19 and 18, look just like our grandson. Rich and Cory also connected and talked for hours.

On March 8th, Rich and his wife, Kelleen, spent the day with us in Newport Beach. We are grateful to have had our vaccines. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I’m not sure any of us would have found each other. Gary may not have done his DNA test. Kelleen may not have checked into Ancestry to gather hers and Rich’s DNA information for a wellness program they had purchased the week after Christmas, which is when she saw the “possible parental contact” on Rich’s page and then reached out to our niece.

COVID-19 brought us more than a silver lining. We got a miracle!

I retired from UCI in 2009 after 41½ years of service. My wife of 23 plus years is about 10 years my junior; still works and when the pandemic hit her company mandated, she worked from home.When my wife set up her work station on the kitchen table it didn’t take long for her fingers, wrist, arms, neck and back to start hurting due to the poor ergonomic setup. We agreed she should set up her work laptop and stand-alone computer monitor at our primary computer desk location. That location has a Standard Mouse and Keyboard platform tray with a gel wrist rest pad that’s mounted under the computer desk. That meant I could no longer use our home computer during her working hours except in a dire emergency. That created another conflict in our household. My wife’s working hours are from 7:00–16:00 Monday-Friday. During the course of her work my wife initiates, participates and generates multiple live stream video Zoom conferences and telephone calls. She complained when I’d walk by and appeared in the frame of her Zoom conference meetings. So, to compromise, I changed my wake/sleep cycle. I sleep from 06:00 to approximately 15:00. I shower and make every attempt not to enter the living room until after my wife shuts down the computer at the end of her work day. The silver lining is that my wife and I were able to work out a loving compromise with no hard feelings. The saying goes: “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Before the pandemic I’d usually leave our home on a daily basis to run errands, go fishing or go out joy riding. When the pandemic hit the last two items came to a screeching halt. The upshot is that we have a lot more money in our coffers and have used that extra money to pay off debt. And yes, the Stimulus money really helped in that regard. Another pandemic silver lining is that because of our unexpected early debt reduction, my wife will be able to retire two years earlier than previously planned. The saying goes: “Happy Wife, Happy Life.”

Donna Marie Garcia wrote in praise of UCI’s “Incredibles,” the essential workers at the Student Center, Facilities Management and Transportation who keep the campus clean, disinfected and running smoothly.

Likewise, Student Housing lauded its staff for supporting on-campus residents by “creating interactive events, doing wellness checks, making sure quarantined students receive meals and providing day-to-day help and strategies for stress management.” Below are two RAs, Tarun Rajasekar and Alyssa Nicole Ruiz, along with their furry friends.

I received my acceptance letter from UCI one year ago in March. My native Yucatan, Mexico declared lockdown on St. Patrick’s Day. The language institute where I was academic coordinator closed its doors permanently. Shortly after, I joined a group of mostly Spanish-speaking poets who organized a series of one hundred daily readings on Zoom. We called ourselves Poetas sin fronteras (Poets without borders) Chema Paz, an academic and poet from Galicia, Spain, proposed a topic for one of the readings: Poems in support of doctors and medical staff. Following his suggestion, I wrote my first Covid-related poem on April 10, and kept on writing. Poetry proved effective to chronicle a sudden stop of normality, and everything that came with it: Anxiety, quiet streets, a curfew, the whisper of tree branches blown by a cleaner breeze, an imminent hurricane season, and the seeming ubiquity of death, but also a growing sense of community. I aimed for a biblical number forty and, on May 13, published Covidario veinte-veinte: 20 + 20 poemas desde la cuarentena, through Ablucionistas Editorial. It turned out to be the first full-length book of Covid-related poems by a single author in Mexico. The book’s formal presentation was organized on Zoom by FILEY, Yucatan’s international book fair, a few days before my arrival in Irvine. My Covidario is available for free download on Academia.edu:

Emily Jen, senior finance analyst in the School of Humanities, describes how her family transformed and adapted amidst heartbreak.

Emily Jen and family

Since it seemed like everyone was getting a dog during the pandemic, it took several failed attempts before we were able to adopt. Finally, a rescue contacted us, saying that our family would be a better fit for another dog that recently became available, rather than the one we had applied for. So we got Dexter, a maltese mix, who loves kids. He has been a great companion, and giving him belly rubs is so therapeutic.

My mom moved in with us in August after my dad passed away unexpectedly. She now has settled in with a daily routine. I love talking to her, listening to the stories of when she was young and of her life with my dad before I was born.

We have slowly adjusted to our new normal. During these uncertain times, I cherish being with the ones I love.

If you’d like to share a reflection, or tell us what habits or practices you’ve developed during the pandemic, send photos and/or words to marketing@uci.edu or post on social media with #UCIConnected

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