by Peter Carcia, Program Assistant, Department of English
Alex Mika (CLAS ‘21) is a senior English major and student worker for the English department. He has recently released a chapbook called Alex and the Dinosaur Prints and will be continuing his education in the MA program at UConn, focusing on early modern drama, dramatic literature, and adaptations. He enjoys writing poetry and plays, making music, and futilely trying to train his cat to do tricks.
PC: What was your day-to-day campus life like before COVID?
AM: It was usually the case that I would leave my dorm in the morning and I wouldn’t come back until the evening unless I didn’t have any classes that day. The Austin building became my second home in Spring 2020: all of my classes were located there, and it was then that I discovered the second floor lounge. I would just stay there and study in between classes; they really should have charged me rent. It was also during that semester that I was able to get something I had been coveting since I came to UConn: one of the library carrels. I got my key in early or mid-February, and in the midterm madness I didn’t get to move my books and research materials into there until the end of the month. I got about two weeks’ use of it before everything was shut down. I was heartbroken.
PC: Has living in an apartment nearby and having that proximity to campus helped you to stay in that academic mindset? Was it different with everything the way it is?
AM: Definitely. I think being close to campus and even being able to go for a walk on campus, has definitely made the adjustment a bit easier because I still have that feeling, “I’m at the university, it’s time to get that work done.” It’s an adjustment, but luckily, I’m in a position where the work that I do can be completed almost anywhere. I don’t have any labs, and most of the work that I do is independent. So, from a logistical standpoint, it hasn’t been too difficult.
PC: For your student worker position interview, one of the things that stood out to us was your creative work, like your book that’s now out there. Did you feel like the time at home amplified that creative outlet, or was there just a shift in how you wanted to create things?
AM: It’s been an interesting experience for me in that regard. On the one hand, it made me appreciate the creative process a lot more. Like you mentioned, I ended up turning a project in my nature writing class with Professor Pelizzon into a chapbook. I don’t think I would have approached that project if I hadn’t gone home in Spring 2020. Having that summer also gave me the time to focus on learning about topics that I didn’t have as much time to explore during school. I’m the kind of person where I start a lot of things and I work on three or four projects at a time, but I think this experience definitely changed some of the ways in which I work. It allowed me to focus on one thing before moving on to the next. This last year has really been about going one day at a time, and I’ve incorporated that into my creative process.
PC: When you talk to other students, what kind of things do you typically hear about how they’re able to piece everything together and get through this scenario?
AM: One thing that I’ve been seeing a lot of is the attempt to maintain a collaborative atmosphere. I think a lot of us were really missing that. Some friends of mine started a writing group. Instead of having in-person workshops, we’ve been setting up weekly prompts for each other and we’ll have a Zoom or Google Meet call to talk about the pieces that we wrote. We’ll share interesting things we’ve read, films we’ve seen, or just talk and decompress together after a long day. I also know some folks who have been organizing informal book clubs, poetry readings, art nights, any kinds of ways to maintain communication and meaningful connections.
PC: In the scenario that you’ve been presented with as a senior, what lessons do you think you’re going to take with you as you go forward?
AM: There’s this song by Billy Joel called “Vienna.” One of the verses goes, “Slow down, you crazy child. Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while. It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two (ooh-ooh). When will you realize… Vienna waits for you?” It’s one of those songs that I would always play and think, “Wow, that’s so true, you’re so right, Billy,” and then the song would finish and I would go back to work. Now, I appreciate that song so much more. A few days after I got home for spring break last year, I got sick and was stuck in bed for a couple weeks. I couldn’t really get up. It was literally a full stop. I picked up this book by David Sedaris that I bought and just never got to read until that point. I read it, and it was such a great experience because I picked up this thing that I had been neglecting and I discovered one of my favorite authors that day.
This whole COVID era also made me appreciate communication so much more. For me, some of the greatest moments at UConn were office hours visits with professors. That was something that I missed, and I had to adjust the ways in which I was going about communicating with them. And, as a student worker writing articles for the newsletter this year, I had the opportunity to talk to new faculty and retiring faculty and faculty at the regional campuses, which was a really wonderful experience. I got to meet people who genuinely love talking about their work and sharing discoveries they’ve made, and their passion was really infectious. The interviews just felt like conversations, and I’ve taken a lot of what was said during them to heart.