finding Fitness during homesickness

Claudia Espy

The pandemic revealed the important things society should be truly focused on: the harsh realities of living life during a pandemic, the black lives matter movement, the decline of our country economically, the true meaning of democracy, and our role in making a difference in this country.


COVID-19 brought considerable perspective individually, socially and globally. It has taken an immeasurable toll from society socially, economically, emotionally, and financially. It has demanded an adjustment to a “new normal.” Pre-COVID-19, our lives were so consumed with materialistic and superficial values. Our world took so much for granted, and reacted to every little unimportant thing--whether it be a bad day, little sickness, or bad test in school.  As online school was less time consuming and life was more isolating, I was able to explore and discover what I enjoy most: hanging out with my friends, getting more quality time with my dogs and family, and enjoying the outdoors. 

I have always prided myself on my ability to incorporate mental wellness and fitness into my daily or at least weekly routine. When the pandemic hit, I had more time for fitness and was able to explore different realms; including youtube workouts and long-walks throughout my neighborhood in the blazing, bright, blinding, piercing, and excruciating hot Texas sun. I have relied on my fitness workouts as an outlet, a stress reliever and a grounding activity as a result of the lack of human interaction. 

Throughout the summer as my first year of college approached, I was uneasy as to if I would feel the same sense of belonging or common ground while finding my place at Duke. Finding a sense of community at a brand new school out of state during a pandemic seemed impossible. I pondered for many hours over the summer wondering if I was making the right decision to attend classes in-person. I begged friends, family, relatives, and even random Duke students for any advice they had to offer, “Should I come, or should I take a gap year, or maybe even defer a semester?” I was beginning to hear of more of my friends from home taking gap years and felt pressure to take one as well. After deciding to come to campus and move forward with my original plans, I still had no comfort or confidence in my decision. I figured I would not know if my decision was the “right” one until I stepped foot on campus and started to live the COVID-19 college experience--the new normal. 

At first, it was extremely difficult to settle in. I had no friends and no orientation to meet my freshman class. I was experiencing a long-distance relationship break up. I was homesick. I was lost. I had no one to hug, no one to cry to, and no distractions. I wanted to return home more than ever. I begged my parents to pick me up, unable to see the light from the seemingly endless misery.

I began to venture out of my dorm room in search of distraction. I made more of an effort to eat meals with my hallmates, hang out in the Blackwell common room, and put myself out there.  As I made more of an effort to spend time outside of my dorm room I felt exceedingly better both emotionally and physically. I was finally able to come out of my shell. I started discovering my friend group, talking to my friends or family on the phone without getting homesick, and overall feeling like myself again. I felt stronger than ever before. Most importantly, I cherished my time outdoors, enjoying nature, being certain to take more walks on the East campus loop, as listening to nature or listening to some classic throwback songs by the Jonas Brothers made me feel more at peace than ever. I felt like I had grown so much in the first few weeks of my unique college experience. 

As I realized how important fitness played a role in my overall wellness, I decided to explore Duke fitness classes, specifically the HIIT workout classes. These classes provide me with not only a distraction but a standing community that I can rely on every Tuesday and Thursday. This consistency is also met through the unchanging instructor and familiar faces I look forward to seeing biweekly. The Duke HIIT classes and resulting community has helped me feel less homesick, more comfortable, and prompted me to burst out of my shell. During the workouts I am encouraged to let loose, breathe freely without a mask (6 feet apart) and enjoy moving my body.  


Life finally started to feel manageable for me. I was more at ease. I started attending yoga on the weekends as a way to decompress from the week.I rely on these organized fitness classes as an outlet and a consistent community. I value the important role fitness plays in our health and overall wellbeing. I strongly encourage you to find that rock—that sense of belonging and a community, whether it be with human interaction or activity, something that relentlessly builds you up, and feels like your second community, a place where you can be yourself, a place that brings you pure joy.