Maskless spring break revelers fill bar patio in Fort Lauderdale
Maskles partygoers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. enjoy their spring break despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
USA TODAY, Storyful
When you think of spring break, you might envision college kids traveling and partying in beach-side towns. At least, that’s what Madison Cerami was looking forward to.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Wake Forest University junior and her friends planned to go to Florida and rent a house on the beach. “Like in the movies,” she says.
Cerami hoped March would “be a time to let loose after the grueling semester” at her school nicknamed “Work Forest” by some students. But the school opted to remove the traditional week-long spring break and replace it with two rest days in an effort to prevent travel during the pandemic.
Like Wake Forest, many universities have taken measures to prevent social activities during the pandemic, with some shortening spring break to coincide with Easter and others cancelling it altogether.
Additionally, typical spring break hotspots including Miami Beach have enforced measures like a midnight curfew in anticipation of spring break. On Saturday, police in Miami Beach dispersed an “unruly” crowd of more than 200 people by shooting pepper balls.
According to Johns Hopkins University data, the U.S. has had the highest number of COVID-19 cases over any country with over 29 million cases and 500,000 deaths as of Monday.
What makes the experience of missing out on college milestones more difficult, freshman Lenny Saizan says, is watching others go on with their plans as usual. Other students say losing a traditional spring break is just one of the many gaping holes as COVID ripples through the fabric of their college experiences.
“I definitely feel FOMO (fear of missing out) from people who aren’t worried about the pandemic or are getting a real spring break,” Saizan, a Vanderbilt University student, says. “I see their Snapchat and Instagram stories, and sometimes I wish I could be there.”
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What is FOMO?
The fear of missing out is what it sounds like: an anxiety elicited by feeling left out.
“A key component of FOMO is that it is underpinned by a feeling of helplessness that one is missing out on something that is crucial (and is) being experienced by others,” says Jennifer Wolkin, PhD, a New York-based clinical neuropsychologist.
Kevin Chapman, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, says “most anyone can relate to FOMO, because it involves experiencing a wide range of emotions associated with not being able to engage in social activity.”
“Because of that, that really opens the door to experiencing anxiety, sadness, frustration or anger, because the whole essence of FOMO is the idea that the whole world is going on around me and I’m missing out somehow.”
He says it’s especially common for college students, who are already anxious about transitioning into adulthood.
“All this is going to create an immense amount of social anxiety and the idea that you’re missing out on things, that you’re ‘supposed to have’ a spring break to enjoy.”
‘It feels like I’m being punished for following the rules’
Jess Jang, a senior at University of Virginia, was looking forward to traveling to Puerto Rico for what she calls her “last hurrah before leaving college.” However, the pandemic crushed that opportunity.
“I was just hoping at least to be able to travel, and it’s just sad, because in years past my course load has been really heavy and I knew this semester would be chill, so I was looking forward to doing more stuff.”
Instead, Jang will be staying safe with her housemates in Charlottesville, but seeing others partying has been hard.
“College is supposed to be the best years of your life, and seeing people your age do all this fun stuff while you’re staying safe— I don’t know, it feels like I’m being punished for following the rules whereas other people are taking risks and going out. It’s frustrating.”
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Wolkin says that social media has exacerbated FOMO, especially for college students.
“This is a recipe for disaster since now we have what we think of as evidence of other people’s doing better and bigger things than we are,” Wolkin says.
“It’s so front-and-center and right in our faces, and we see images and then generate stories about our lives compared with others’ lives in a way we didn’t necessarily do in previous generations.”
Spring break is one of many disappointments
The college experience during the pandemic has been “honestly depressing,” says Cerami, whose university went into a restrictive state due to the large spike in cases. The library, gym, student center and dining hall were closed off, and visitors were prohibited from dorm rooms at the start of the year.
“My mental health was at an all-time low during this time,” she says, calling her junior year “a complete throwaway.”
“Campus quite literally felt like a prison since there was absolutely nothing social to do whatsoever.”
Coming from California, Lili Gibson, a freshman at The Juilliard School, was expecting New York City to be “full of life.”
“In New York, you have a whole city at your disposal that’s known for not sleeping, being full of life and never running out of things to do,” Gibson says. Moving across the country and “not being able to experience that” has impacted her.
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COVID-friendly spring break alternatives
Still, some are finding ways to see the upside of the lack of a traditional spring break.
Gibson plans to take a road trip with her dorm-mates. She credits her mom with reminding her, “You’re never going to have this much free time again.”
Like Gibson, Armon Mohebbi is spending his spring break with the same close pod of people he’s let in during the pandemic. Though the Georgetown University senior was expecting a party-filled spring break, he’s opting to have a few friends over to his house on the Chesapeake Bay in the hope of making the most out of the break.
And Nishant Jain, a freshman at University of Los Angeles, California (UCLA) is looking forward to seeing his family and getting in some quality time that he feels he’s missed over the last few months.
“It’s nothing extravagant,” he says of his break. “I just miss my parents and sister.”