Liz is a second-year undergraduate student. She is the daughter of an immigrant and a refugee.

“I was really frustrated with the university, because I felt they made their decision based on the assumption that everyone has a stable home to go to, a home they wanna go to, which is definitely not true.”

Interview highlight:

“…and in the middle of the week, during spring break, we got that email saying that we’re closing for the rest of the semester, and everyone has to move out by April 5th, which kinda blindsided me […]

“I haven’t lived with my parents since I was 17, ‘cause I took a gap year — I lived in Germany for a year, and then I came back. I lived with them [my parents] for maybe two weeks, and then I went off to school. So maybe the longest that I’ve lived with them since I was 17 has been like, six weeks, ‘cause we don’t have the greatest relationship. 

“I suffer from depression, and a lot of my depression is related to trauma from my childhood, or my relationship with my parents. So I just try to stay away. So when the university made that decision, and I didn’t have anywhere to go, that was like my first thought, like, ‘What do I do? Like, should I go home? I don’t really feel comfortable going home, but I don’t have enough money to pay rent anywhere else.’ So that was really stressful for me—that whole period was super, super stressful.”

Full transcript:

Interviewer:  So, Liz, as a second year student, what has your experiences with UMD [University of Maryland, College Park] just generally been like?

Liz: Um…it’s been okay. I definitely like the people more than I like the administration or the classes. Yeah, just the administration, I guess I perceive them always to be kind of negligent, considering the amount of deaths that have happened on campus since we came here. And I just don’t generally—I see a lot of bureaucracy, and I don’t see a lot of generalized—or, I guess, specific care, for students. But the people—I found really great friends, and I’ve enjoyed my time here for the most part.

Interviewer: I guess I was wondering if you could say more about the bureaucracy part?

Liz: Yeah, I don’t know if this is just in my department, but—so I’m in the GVPT department—government and politics. I just find that everything is very…yeah, I guess, bureaucratic. There’s so many forms you have to fill out, which I understand. But your advisors don’t really know what’s going on with your academic plan. And then, if you want to ask questions about a different department or just life in general, it’s like they don’t know anything outside of their department. There is no kind of guidance on where to direct you from resources and stuff. So I’ve just kind of found like…I don’t know, especially advising to just be kind of useless.

And there’s so much paper where you have to go through, so many policies. I also—I work with SGA [student government association] a lot because I run a club. And we have to contract out money a lot of times for our instructors, or rent rooms and stuff. And that has been, like, literally one of the worst experiences ever. They don’t—the budgets are so confusing, they don’t really try to help us on anything.

There’s a ton of rules because we’re dealing with state money, and they’ve told us before, like—we will submit a budget. We’ll have them look over it, and they’ll be like, “Yeah, this is gonna get approved,” and then it comes back, and it didn’t get approved for some random reason. So, it’s just…I don’t know. I’m very fed up with the numerous amount of rules and paperwork that the school has.

Interviewer: Yeah, that does kind of sound frustrating. So, I guess that….what exactly do the university’s decision on housing, what does that mean to you when that came about?

Liz: So that whole process, I felt, was not very well handled—still isn’t being very well handled, because…So, the week before spring break, everybody was super stressed out because we had midterms. On top of that, there’s this, like, epidemic in the world that nobody has any idea what’s going on. And so, there’s a lot of pressure on students from academics and then just, like, social pressure. And everybody’s wondering, is the university going to close? Are we coming back? If I’m leaving for spring break, do I take all my stuff or do I leave it here?

So, I felt like they [UMD] didn’t make that decision soon enough, or even if…even if the decision had come out at the same time, they were not informing us of their decision-making process at all. So I found that really stressful. And then, once we were on spring break, I decided to stay on campus during spring break. 

And then, in the middle of the week, we got this letter, that email, that said ‘We now have two weeks this spring break,’ and then were—[interrupts self] oh, no, no, no. They closed it before we went on spring break; we were supposed to come back April 10th. And then, in the middle of the week during spring break, we got that email that we’re closing for the rest of the semester, and everybody has to move out by April 5th, which kind of blindsided me because I…I mean, I least thought I had till April 10 to figure something out.

And when they cut that short, that was a huge shock. And also, not even like, “You have to leave campus.” You have to move out. Like, everything has to be out of your room. Which made it really hard, because I….So, basically, I’ve lived on campus both years that I’ve been at UMD, and I try not to go home very much, ’cause I haven’t lived in my parents since I was 17, ’cause I took a gap year. I lived in Germany for a year, and then I came back. I lived with them for maybe two weeks, and then I went off to school. 

So, maybe the longest that I’ve lived with them since I was 17, has been like six weeks. Because we don’t have the greatest relationship. And I suffer from depression, and a lot of my depression is related to trauma from my childhood, or my relationship with my parents. So I just try to stay away. So when the university made that decision, and I didn’t have anywhere to go, that was my first thought, like, “What do I do? Like, should I go home? I don’t really feel comfortable going home, but like I don’t have enough money to pay rent anywhere else.” So, that was really stressful for me; that whole period was super, super stressful. And then, basically, I spent the next couple weeks trying to figure out where I was going to live.

So, I was looking into options. I was looking at my savings. I was looking places I could possibly rent. I was thinking about maybe trying to stay at my boyfriend’s house for a little bit. And finally, it just came down to, like—I didn’t have enough money to go anywhere. I didn’t want to burden my boyfriend’s family. So, I decided to go home. Which stressed me out even more because, like, the knowledge that you…like, in a few weeks, that you’re gonna have to go back to this place that you hoped you would never have to go back to for a long time…is really stressful. So, the best word I can use to describe this whole experience is just “stress.”.

I was crying every night, and my boyfriend didn’t know what to do. It was just really, really stressful. And I was really—I guess—frustrated with the university because I felt they made their decision based on the assumption that everybody has a stable home to go to, and a place, a home that they wanna go to. Which is definitely not true. And I’m not—like, my case isn’t even the worst of it: like, I have a physical place to go to. A lot of people don’t even have that. So, I feel like that decision was totally not made…I don’t know, with a lot of people in mind.

And there was also…I mean, there was the option to stay on campus for the rest of the semester in emergency housing. But that would have required me to move to a different building, to stay on campus where there’s nobody there. Like, campus during breaks is extremely empty and secluded. It’s not the easiest to get places. And I figured if they’re giving out refunds, one month’s rent on campus would be probably two months rent somewhere else. So, I just kind of weighed the finances of that. 

But yeah, like, I just—The decision of the university just completely kind of turned my life upside down very, very, very quickly. And now, like, I’m doing better, but, like, that whole period where I was unsure of where I was going to live, and then knowing that I have to go back to my parents house, and then, the stress of just like moving out of the place you’ve been living for, like the past couple months—was pretty awful.

Interviewer: Mm. Yeah. That sounded like a lot of frustration with lack of transparency, and then, also the lack of stability that was just suddenly being thrust on you.

Liz: Yeah. And then, just not knowing when the university was going to release their next update. ‘Cause I would just get random emails at random times during the day, that would announce a new policy. Like, they were ending the move-out procedures. They were doing this and that. And like, nobody—I didn’t even know they were discussing these things, much less that they were going to release a decision. I just wish that they had been more open about the whole process.

Interviewer: Yeah, definitely, and I think that’s very important how you say that stress generally encapsulates a lot of this whole experience. Just the stress of not being able to have that stable environment, whether it’s having to move from a different space to another, especially because you’ve said that home isn’t necessarily a stable, healthy place for you to be.

I was wondering, if you feel comfortable sharing more, I was a bit curious about what home is like for you. But if you aren’t comfortable with that, that is totally okay.

Liz: Yeah, I can share. I mean, so my house…so something that I struggle with, I guess in like feeling bad for myself, or calling home a non-stable place, because it’s not like a physically unstable place. You know, my house is nice. My parents are like, they don’t hit me, they don’t verbally abuse me. They don’t do anything like that. It’s just when I go home—’cause growing up in this house, and then this is something I just started to realize once I started therapy recently, is that my house has never been in a place that I felt comfortable.

Because, my parents growing up, they’re both immigrants. My mom’s a refugee, actually—[to the interviewer] Well, you know that.

And it was a place—like, there was an immense amount of pressure on me to succeed. ‘Cause I was the kid that showed the most aptitude for school and for success, I guess. Like, there was just a huge amount of pressure for me to do well in school, to prioritize school above everything else, to be the person that they wanted me to be.

And I…I kind of didn’t know any better, so I really leaned into that. I would suppress my own personality to be the person that they wanted me to be. And then, just like general—like, it created a lot of resentment growing up, but I didn’t really know why. And it felt like my parents didn’t respect me a lot. Like they didn’t respect my decisions or the things that I liked. It felt like everything I liked was kind of being attacked in the name of like prioritizing their goals for me.

So I guess, yeah, it just created a lot of tension. And every time I tried to bring it up with my parents, I always came out of it as, like, the problem or, you know, like they were the victim. So, yeah, it wasn’t a place that I wanted to be. And now, you know, I don’t—we don’t have a very good relationship. We don’t talk very much. And it’s never—yeah, it’s very much so like a very passive-aggressive relationship. And they don’t know a lot about my life. They don’t know much of what I do at school, good and bad. Like, I volunteer a lot. They have no idea about all that. They don’t know like a lot of—they don’t know any of my friends. 

So it’s just not a place that I feel comfortable in, and the last time I was here [at home] was winter break. And that, like, was when I had probably with my worst depressive episode, which was just from the pressure of being here, because it feels very much like I’m under a microscope. Like I can’t be myself in just—yeah, my family is also just very judgmental. 

So, being here…like, there’s already that history, and now that I’m back, knowing that this is what set me off last time I was here, it just makes it even worse. Like, knowing that that could happen again. So, yeah, it’s just like—I don’t know how to describe it, because it’s not like…On the surface, it looks like a very nice place to be, in a very good position to be in. But the tension that is underneath, it’s just very draining. And I just don’t feel like I can usually be myself in front of my parents or my family.

Interviewer: Yeah, I kind of wonder if, like, sometimes that could…Well, not necessarily to attribute value systems to which one is worse or stuff, but I think there is definitely something to be said for the fact that it could be more invisible, the tension that comes from that. I feel that’s definitely very valid, too.

Liz: Yeah, it’s just—it’s also, like, exhausting because you can’t pinpoint it to anything. Like, it’s just a lot of little things that build up, and there’s no way to resolve it in any quick fashion.

Interviewer: Mm. And—oh, yeah, do you consider yourself second-generation by any chance? I don’t know how you identify culturally.

Liz: I don’t know…I can’t remember which one is which. And they change all the time. I just know—I guess I’m “first-generation, born in this country?” But I guess, “second-generation immigrant?” I don’t know, to be honest, but both my parents were not born in this country.

Interviewer: How do you feel that, if at all—You talked about the fact that your parents are both immigrants, and just sort of that disconnect—?

Liz: Yeah, disconnect. Basically, so like, my parents were both very poor when they came here, and very poor in their home country. So there is a lot of drive for them to, I guess, make it. And like, in that sense they have, but they also feel this need to push that on me, for me to make it, and to be, like, the best, to carry the legacy forward. And I noticed, just a while ago, it was really stressing me out to feel like I—like, there was a lot of weight on my shoulders. Like, I carry this weight of like, my mom is a refugee. My dad came here alone when he was like 16. Just like, I don’t know—it’s kind of like a burden that I thought I was supposed to carry, and that it was supposed to make me go farther and, like, I don’t know, I had something to prove? Which ends up being a huge amount of pressure. You know, I thought a B was not acceptable. It was really tearing me apart, just my focus on school.

So just like, I don’t know, I guess it ties into that because when your parents are immigrants, they feel like they have something to prove, and then, they push that on you to make you—like, now, because, “You were born here, you can go even farther than I can, and you need to do that.” And of course, their expectations for success, and what they consider to “go far” are very different from what I consider success.

Interviewer: Yeah, I can definitely resonate with that, as—I also don’t really know how to consider myself, immigrant-wise, but my parents were both immigrants that came to this country, and I was…I don’t know, that’s a long story. And I’m definitely here to talk more about you, but I can resonate with the idea of so many different pressures that are coming in, and just the disconnect of, like, culture, and what exactly success means, and that idea of needing to prove yourself.

Liz: Definitely. Yeah, I think it’s a very…It’s a very universal aspect for kids of immigrants. Especially in the US, too, ’cause there’s always the “American Dream” looming over you, like—it’s a lot.

Interviewer: Yeah. And you did mention…Well, you mentioned stuff about mental health, and I just wanted to sort of check in with that, and just sort of hear more about how you’ve been accessing mental health services?

Liz: So, like, I was in therapy before this whole thing started. And I still am. Thankfully, I’m able to meet with my therapist over the phone. Otherwise, I haven’t really used many mental health resources, which I probably should, because I don’t know, for what I’ve noticed is that my mental health has really been fluctuating just day to day. Like, some days, it’ll be awful, and I can’t get out of bed. And other days it’ll be like, “Okay, let’s do this, let’s do your homework, let’s get done.” Um…yeah. I don’t know, like…Luckily, I do have my therapist to keep me somewhat on track. But I probably should access more mental health resources. And I think also the fact that I can’t leave my house is really getting to me. It just like, I don’t know, it just magnifies all these feelings, because there’s no outlet.

Interviewer: Would it be sort of—I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth, but sort of to maybe clarify more, is it like the feeling of feeling trapped or…?

Liz: Yeah, I think definitely I feel very trapped.

Interviewer: I sometimes think about just the…just the scope of the implications of this pandemic, and the fact that so many people have to stay in place—if they do have the privilege of having a place—and I definitely think about how mental health connects with that. And that sounds very distressing sometimes.

Liz: Yeah, I think like, just knowing myself—and I think a lot of people do this, too—like, I distract myself by staying very busy, and keeping my life fast-paced, and always making sure I have somewhere to be—or if I don’t have somewhere to be there, that I have something to do. And I think especially for these type of people, we’re really….we’re probably hit very, very hard by the pandemic because there is nothing to do. There is nowhere to go, there’s nothing to distract you. So, you have to really—it takes a lot of mental strength, I think, to try to keep up that mindset when you don’t have those physical things to distract you.

Interviewer: Just basically that huge “pause” button, and then, it’s like this weird limbo, I guess.

Liz: [laughs] Yeah, exactly.

Interviewer: So, I’m really glad that you are able to access therapy in some way with talking through the phone. And I was just sort of wondering how this sort of differs from how you usually access therapy. Like, what sort of changes are you noticing, if at all? Things like that.

Liz: There’s not too many changes…I guess, like, sometimes it does help in therapy when you go to the therapist office, because it kind of removes you from all of your regular environments, and you feel like it’s a place that you can talk for more of like an outsider’s perspective on the things that are happening. So when I do therapy, and I’m just like sitting in my room on my bed, in the places that I was maybe crying last night, like—it’s hard to separate yourself, and to look at things more objectively, and just more holistically than if I had gone to her office. But it doesn’t—other than that, I don’t really feel like there’s a difference. And I think this time is showing a lot of people and their therapist that virtual therapy is a very real option. It’s a very effective option, too. So, yeah.

Interviewer: [murmurs] That’s real. [at conversational volume] Yeah, definitely. I can think about definitely that mindset of needing to step out.

But I think that...[long pause] I’m sort of interested in what you’re saying about the fact that virtual therapy could be shown and highlighted to be a really valid option. And I was just sort of wondering: your thoughts about just generally other stuff you think are coming up, that maybe people haven’t considered before, but this pandemic might be sort of highlighting in a way.

Liz: Um, are you only referring to mental health or just in general?

Interviewer: I guess, mental health and other things in general.

Liz: I mean, I definitely think—so, on the virtual therapy thing, like, the reason I say that is ’cause I could—like, it hasn’t really changed much of my therapy sessions or the schedule. So I think, like, it might just be more convenient for people, especially people who live far away from the therapist. But also like, I don’t know, it’s kind of hard for me to think about, like how the world is going to like monumentally change after this whole pandemic. Because like everybody is saying, like, “Things are never gonna be the same again.”

But then for me, it’s like, well, people are going to be the same. People are gonna hug each other again. Like, give them a couple months, and they’re going to forget that kind of fear and they’re going to start hugging each other again. So it’s hard for me to kind of discern what’s going to stay the same as it is right now, and what’s just going to go back to normal. 

But I think, maybe a lot of virtual services are probably going to be here to stay, because, like, people have been forced to make that transition, and they’re finding that it’s not as bad as they thought it was for…Yeah, I don’t know, I actually. Hopefully not online classes, because that has been awful.

Interviewer: [laughs] Yeah, what are your thoughts about online class, actually?

Liz: Online classes are like the worst thing I’ve ever experienced. Like, I don’t know if this is how it is like when you take a regular online class. But like, I haven’t…I don’t have like a lot more work, but a discussion post takes a lot more time than an in-class discussion, and it takes a lot more preparation and a lot more thought. Because like when I’m in class, I can just say whatever I’m thinking. And I don’t really have to, like, provide page numbers or proof that, like, this is what they said.

But online class, it’s like everything requires proof because it’s in writing, and then I just don’t have that kind of face-to-face with my peers and with my professors. So you can’t really take those verbal cues and visual cues. And there’s really no sense of community in your classes because…like, I don’t remember what half these people looked like anyways. So, online class—they’ve really taken the best things out of class and just left you with the raw material, which—half of my classes, I don’t even like, so, yeah.

Interviewer: That’s deep. “They’ve really taken the best things out of class.” 

But yeah, definitely. Just to start sort of rounding things up, I was just sort of—I do want to acknowledge the fact that this has definitely been a stressful time just in general with different things, with mental health, with stability and things like that. So I was just sort of thinking what sources of support do you find, if at all?

Liz: Well, I guess the person I’ve really been leaning on has been my boyfriend, who coincidentally my parents have not allowed me to see for this entire time. So we just Face-Time a lot, we text. He’s always—I mean, for a while, he’s always been my biggest mental health supporter. We’ve talked about it at length. He’s learning how to deal with me when I’m in these situations. So he’s been really great. 

And also, like I mean, as I said, my therapist has been really good at just helping me work through all the emotions I’ve been having and offering an outside perspective, which is something I really never had before I started therapy. Because everybody that I turned to was always connected to my parents and always had some kind of bias.

That, and just like—Reddit, oddly enough. [laughs]

Interviewer: [amused] Say more.

Liz: [laughs] I don’t post—I don’t post much on Reddit, but reading through—seeing people post about how they’re going through the same thing. Or like, you know, like we all have similar experiences in some sense, so that just been nice to see that there’s a group of people who are experiencing some similar things.

Interviewer: That’s comforting, at least in the tiniest of ways. [Liz snickers] And also, with therapy, was it just recently that you started therapy, or has that been something that you’ve accessed before?

Liz: I started in January. So yeah, it’s only been like, what, four months?

Interviewer: How’s that been like for you? I mean, I know that we’ve already talked about it, but I’m just thinking from the lens of communities of color, and their perception of mental health services. So I don’t know if that’s applicable to you or not.

Liz: No, it definitely was. Like, I’ve known I needed therapy for probably like…Probably since I was in ninth grade, but I never asked for it because I didn’t think my parents would think it’d be something that I needed, or that was worth it. Or like, ‘therapy is for white people’ was always the perception that I got. Even as my depression was worsening, it took me getting to like a very, very low place to finally be like, “I—okay, like, I don’t care. Like, I—I need help.” And luckily my mom could see how bad I was getting. And then she finally conceded she was like, “Yeah, like, you need help. We’re gonna get you help.” So that was good.

And then, my biggest thing going into therapy was that I wanted to find a woman of color to be my therapist, which I actually—just the way the whole situation worked out—I wasn’t able to find one in the timeframe that I needed. So right now, I have a white woman who’s my therapist, but it hasn’t been bad. She’s been very culturally aware and very receptive to my struggles related to being a person of color and just my  specific culture, so, yeah. But like the whole stigma in communities of color about mental health has always been something that’s very present in my mind.

Interviewer: And then also speaking to your last point about Reddit, just generally being this source of support because you’re able to find all of these different stories about people going through similar and/or different ways, different things. I was wondering that…What has been your idea about intimacy just generally during this pandemic?

Liz: Like…I guess, sharing…?

Interviewer: I guess that generally, what does intimacy look like to you in ways that might have been different or similar beforehand?

Liz: I mean. I guess, like, I didn’t start using Reddit because of this pandemic. Like, I used it before. The one thing I’ve always noticed about it is like, people do generally try to remain anonymous on it, and it makes people feel like they can be more honest, which I think just kind of…sounds, I guess, it sounds counterintuitive that staying anonymous can bring us closer together, because we’re more willing to discuss the things that we wouldn’t be able to discuss had we shared our identity. So I think this whole thing is really just a good lesson on community. Even though we’re separated by so many different factors, we can all relate to certain things, we can all say certain things that we, I guess, wouldn’t say before.

I don’t know, I guess what I’m trying to get at is that this pandemic has shown us that we’re all closer than we think. And we’re all more alike than we think. And of course, the Internet can be a tool both working for and against that. But in my experience, it’s shown me—it’s worked for that and shown that we can all kind of be one community and share in something [as people] who are separated by so many different factors.

Person wearing a brown sweater looks through a bookstore.
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