Oppurtunities to Learn Life Skills

62% of camps were closed during the summer of 2020, leaving students plenty of time to kill. This led to the discovery of many unique opportunities to learn new life skills and meet people I would not meet otherwise, like my neighbors, but it also led to others’ fall. I missed occasions like math competitions, which have always been an enjoyable part of my life; I received motivation and support in them. COVID-19’s notable change to our lives will last for more than the actual lockdown. The skills I learned and the changes I made I will continue to have long after the pandemic.
One of the skills I learned was gardening. During the summer between 6th and 7th grade, a neighbor, who is highly proficient at gardening, decided to help out a local church’s plants, churches being closed. I went with her to help out the church; however, my garden was not intended for aesthetics, and I did not know how to do the work. She taught me how to position a plant to look better from a certain angle, use dish soap to kill parasites, how to deadhead flowers, etc. The church we worked on did not have a functioning sprinkler system, leading to the dry plants growing large roots searching for water. Whenever we wanted to plant something, we had to slowly chop down all the roots over the area or pull up entire invasive bushes that were tolerant enough to survive and take over. Since bushes and trees covered a good amount of the site, and some of those had been there for more than six years, removing all the roots was a rather strenuous activity. The church greatly improved from our efforts; we got their parasite-ridden, browning plants flourishing again. Afterward, I gained insight into how gardening for aesthetics worked and also was a good deal stronger. Besides, it was terrific for killing time; I spent much time then watching the news, which was both disheartening and stressful. At the time, there was nothing but rising cases, extended lockdowns, and less-than-hopeful predictions. As I was pretty frightened over a global pandemic and having that stress combined with the news, it was a rather tense period. Gardening helped me reduce stress from the pandemic. I could also have something to do over an otherwise mundane summer and grow my hobby.
I also took up western cooking as a hobby. I usually cook using elementary eastern techniques, as my family is Asian, and I seldom cook. This was mainly limited to basic stir-fry and some knowledge of how to make noodles and soup. My neighbor, however, gave me a western-style cookbook over the summer. It was interesting and thorough, and having much time to kill, I went through the recipes. I learned many new skills, like baking; the Chinese don’t have conventional ovens, carving a chicken, and using a whisk; I taught to use chopsticks. I began regularly making my meals. This had the added benefit that I generally enjoyed western dishes over eastern ones, and my parents did not know how to cook many western dishes, having grown up in China. In doing so, I learned a relevant life skill and increased my independence. I also used this to decrease stress from world events.
However, the loss of some hobbies allowed me to gain a new appreciation for the benefits of a community; my math competitions became virtual. I had many math competitions scheduled, but many got canceled or transferred online. These competitions were something I had been doing for years, and I had always found enjoyment and a supportive community of dedicated people there. I had always found refuge in the competition room’s academic vibe, which can get you in the mood and motivated for the event, and enjoyed the opportunity to network with other people before after the competition. When the competitions moved online, I lost both those attributes. I could no longer socialize with interesting people, could no longer be by a group that shared my interests. I made many friends through competitions, and I was always able to strengthen friendships through them. I lost many opportunities to both make friends and catch up with old ones. While we could still see the scores and know where we are mathematically, it is not the same as in-person. I realized I was becoming less interested in academics and saw how the community had helped me with my motivation and companionship. I became less motivated to do those competitions and lost a lot of social connections as well. I learned that a good, dedicated, and supportive community is a precious asset in any field.
I will keep much of the skills and changes learned and made during the pandemic. Gardening will always be one way to relax mentally, and cooking will remain a hobby of mine. I hope to make up for what has been lost in the math competitions and appreciate a community’s benefits. The pandemic has uniquely touched us all, and those changes will last long after this ends.

Amelia Zhang


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