Quaran-Teens Class of 2021: Challenges to Identity

Quaran-Teens Class of 2021: Challenges to Identity

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They have collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By: Jad Hamze, Robert Dyson, and Lucie Finley

As students of KTH school, our identities have changed drastically. We have experienced complex social isolation, new forms of learning and how our hobbies have turned virtual. COVID 19 has had an immense shift in our day to day lives we once knew. The students of 2021 in KTH school, experienced considerable and ongoing changes their senior year. As students and individuals, we have been forced to navigate the educational options being either in virtual learning or in person learning. Both forms have rules that students must adhere to. If one is a virtual student, they must login to the Zoom link at 9 AM because that is when our classes start. As a virtual student, you are required to show your face while school is in session. KTH teachers want to make sure that you are engaged in the lesson at hand. You may remain muted unless you are needed during the class and in that case you unmute yourself. However when there is a break given, you have the liberty of turning off your screen to do anything you need to do to reenergize. If your choice is to be in person there are also rules that students must abide to.  While in class, students must keep their masks on and practice social distancing to lessen the spread. We only really do not have our masks on when it is break time (if you brought a snack) and lunch. Also, in person students are responsible for bringing their own water bottles in order to not have everyone touching the water fountains. KTH school includes water bottle refill stations controlled by foot. When it is lunch time, students go to their advisory and eat lunch with them every day. Our advisory has the same teacher and students and it is a small knit group, so we get to know everyone very well. Although our day to day education is constantly changing, we are still receiving some variation of our education either virtually or in person.

Extended Isolation Effects

Figure 1: Figure 1: Photo by Author, with permission of all people photographed.

I feel like teenagers all over the world witnessed a massive shift in identity with the extended period of isolation that adolescents universally underwent over the past year. One’s identity is contingent on their sense of group belonging, essentially being one with a certain group, and this idea of belonging was globally hindered when stuck in quarantine for months on end (Pountney and Marić, 145). An aspect of identity I felt affected by was the way that I socially interacted among those I had social relations with. A social relation can comprise any relationship between two or more individuals, and typically speaking, when any sort of interaction is carried out, the identity of the folk within that interaction have a large effect on how the relation goes. For the most part, my peers and I found ourselves stuck inside for about three months (March to May) without any real interactions other than with our direct family members. I would say it was premature, but when people decided to go back out again, it felt as if I had lost an aspect of my identity that had made me such an outgoing and social person. A universal regarding social relationships and specifically human organization is that humans organize themselves into complex social relationships, and the relationships that we put ourselves in after extended quarantine were complex to say the least.

A specific example of this occurring, was when I saw some of my school peers for the first time in months in July. Having had the majority of our relationships carried out online through apps like Snapchat and iMessage’s, seeing others in person was really awkward at first. For three months, the development of our identity was significantly stunted, and I remember when my friend, CH, asked me “what’s new with you”, I had nothing to say. For that period of time, I had very little development in my identity and aspects of my personhood. Having gone through the unprecedented with all my peers, when poised with such a question, my response was the same as the person next to me. I spent time online, on my electronics, virtually communicating and doing online school. Everything was new but at the same time everyone was doing it so it wasn’t really new, it was average. If you had told me how my life would’ve changed three months before the whole pandemic, I would believe that it was all strange, but doing things like online school are now the new norm, an aspect of my identity and life that everyone had experienced. I used to feel very awkward when asserting myself into complex social relationships, but what I have started to notice is that everyone has been going through the unprecedented and that our social relations and identities have all been stunted in some sense, making it a universal hinderance.

Diary Entry of an Online Student

Figure 2: Photo of my ‘virtual school’ at home, by Author.

On December 1, 2020, I woke up at 8:50. This was one of the few times my alarm clock actually woke me up, usually it has to go off 2 more time before I get out of bed. Once I’m awake all I have to do is put some clothes on, walk over to the desk in my room and login to my computer  to be in class by 9:00. I stay logged in to my first class from 9:00 to 11:50. I had math class first, which is fine because I like my math class. Math class on zoom isn’t very difficult, I just watch learn through zoom and take notes to remember what the teacher teaches us. After we get dismissed from class we go on lunch break until 12:50. I had a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch cereal during my lunch break, I eat 1 or 2 bowls of cereal every day. I eat, brush my teeth, and  shower before its 12:50, then I have to login my next class which was Dance for athletes. I like dance class because it gives me a break so I don’t have to sit down in front of my computer all day. In dance class I stand in front of my computer camera and participate in yoga, ballet and other dance exercises. This class ends at and school is over at 3:40. At 3:40 once the class is over and the teacher has dismissed the students, Online students like myself can simply leave the zoom meeting and carry on with the rest of their day. My identity as an online student comes with rituals and responsibilities that I have to keep, for example keeping my eyes on camera, logging into class on time and most importantly KTH. KTH is a shared social memory among the students of our school because we know that KTH stands for Knowledge, Truth, and Honor. This school motto is especially important for online kids because we can’t physically be supervised by any teachers while we work.

My Adjustments to Quarantine

Ever since COVID 19 started in March, new forms of communication have had to come into play. Communication is a systematic set of meaningful learned symbols and signs shared among a group. Zoom has been an immense factor in the way that humans all over the world have been communicating. Globalization is the increasing interdependence of the world’s economies, cultures and population. Like everyone else, I have had to adjust to a much more virtual world we are now living in. The main way in which I use Zoom is to participate in my virtual voice lessons. For obvious reasons, my voice teacher and I both decided to continue my vocal journey on Zoom in order to still participate in my lessons. I am given a Zoom code/password and show up at the same time being 4:30 pm accordingly. Just like many individuals, I have had to navigate the world of Zoom.

Figure 3: Photo of song I learned virtually, by Author

Over my time, I have come to observe many different aspects of my virtual voice lessons. We have a living room with a piano in which I keep my music. I always login to Zoom on my phone and I have learned now that my phone microphone can pick up sound very well. Often times when I would do my vocal warm ups, I would have to take a step back because if I was too close to the microphone, the volume of my voice would be much to loud because of my teacher playing the piano and my voice. So, I learned that technology is very sensitive to noise and if I am too close then it is not as effective. Also, I came to realize that it is often hard to hear the piano over Zoom. My teacher now plays one note on the piano to give me my vocal pitch and then I start singing. He does this because if he tries to play a whole song, it does not come all the way through for me to hear. I have now observed that I am much more independent when one note is being played because I have to keep the song going. Listening to karaoke versions of the song for a couple times helps me feel more confident in my independence as a musician. As many of us are working through Zoom, I know that we have all had to learn how to work independently and strategically. We are all in this new technological community together which in a way is little less scary. All humans around the world have had to better their selves with technology because that is the main source of communication right now.

Conclusion

These paragraphs give us an idea of how identity can be affected by sudden change. This year we have all had to overcome obstacles and find way to adapt and persevere when met with challenges. Technology has helped us so much by giving us ways to virtually go to school. All the online students in our school learn how to properly use zoom so that they will be able to actively participate in the class from home. Student and Teachers who were at the school however, had to learn how to work with the online students and engage with them through a computer screen.  Brent Luvaas makes a comment on technology on page 15 saying “They often work in technology or creative industries and their work as bloggers, whether professional or avocational, requires access to personal computers, an internet connection, and experience camera equipment out of reach to large portions of the populations”. This quote made me realized something else about the identity of our school. We have a school where we could easily transition to all virtual and afford to provide technology for students who need it. A lot of the kids in my school including me would not currently identify themselves as poor or impoverished. Luvaas also says in his book “Auto-ethnography does not just use the self to do research; it is explicitly about the ‘self’ as the medium through which research transpired.”(12). He explains how important it is to study yourself when creating an auto-ethnography. It was very important for me to look at my own habits and take notes of the little things to be able to provide detailed and educated auto-ethnography. However due to the recent COVID guidelines, I live a much more boring and sleepy life, so it wasn’t hard for me to go back and think about the things that happened in my day. From the perspective of an Online student school has only changed in the aspect that we are present virtually not physically, and this has made it so that technology is an even more crucial tool to our education than it was before. Before COVID technology was a tool that helped in education but was still optional, now for some families technology is a necessity in order to get education.

Bibliography

Luvaas, B. (2016). Street Style. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Pountney, L. and Marić, T. (2015). Introducing Anthropology. Polity Press.

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