Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 20, 2024
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COURTESY OF KAITLIN TAN

Tan discusses how Post-it notes helped her remain positive while isolating with COVID-19. 

I spent the beginning of my sophomore year in a bit of a tizzy. 

As an international student coming in only a day before classes started, there was the  beast of jet lag to contend with. But I'd come to expect a couple of 3 a.m. wake-ups with the 12-hour time difference from home. Sure, there was all the chaos that came with unpacking and move-in, but who wasn’t dealing with that? 

Then, there was a fun little surprise — COVID-19 (special shout out to my flight buddies on the way here who all seemed to have something stuck in their throats). Luckily, I caught a pretty mild case. But jet lag plus COVID-19 meant I had a lot of free time on my hands. A lot of thinking time which, for someone with a very cluttered mind, meant those mental warning sirens were on high alert, screaming at me: Get up and do something productive!

I obviously couldn’t attend classes. Thanks to an unrelenting fever, I couldn't unpack much at a time either. This could’ve been such a fun week to read and sprint through another Parks and Recreation rerun, but I found myself swamped by something other than the physical illness — a suffocating bout of homesickness. In all honesty, I thought I'd dealt with my homesickness last fall, folding it up in a neat little square that I'd tucked into a drawer in my freshman dorm. Oh, did time prove me wrong.

Homesickness made everything feel just out of reach. Quarantined away from everyone — with my family asleep for most of the day (hello, time difference), it felt like I was neither here nor there, but stuck on an endless flight. In any other circumstance, I'd submerge myself in exercise and to-do lists, assignments and deadlines. It was new and shocking to sit around and stare my dissatisfaction straight in the face.

But even cluttered minds like mine can find themselves peace and consolation. Through a haze of meditation loops and Vitamin C, I left myself Post-it notes to read throughout the day when I felt most overwhelmed. I wrote little sentiments like, “Give it a chance” — with “it” being this lifestyle, my new dorm, staying in a foreign country and maybe even the day itself. I don’t know, but it helped me have hope during an uncertain present. A Post-it reading, “All you have to think about is now,” reminded me to slow down when I started expanding the timeline of my life to dizzying heights.

Maybe they were silly little notes, but they made a world of difference in reminding me that, despite all the worries swelling in my brain, the smallest actions and mental reframings could help make things a tiny bit better. It’s easy to forget the obvious when everything seems so daunting.

While I definitely had an unorthodox welcome week for my sophomore year, I think it reminded me of how helpful it can be to spell out the obvious good in overwhelming situations and to remember that you are more than your present circumstance.

I hope this serves as a positive reminder for anyone who needs it.

Confession: I lied, a little when I said I didn’t read. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune kept me company for the best parts of that week. It was such a wholesome book I had to mention it. This whole article is a sham. Read that for instant happiness.

Kaitlin Tan is a sophomore from Macao majoring in Writing Seminars and Cognitive Science.


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