Maria Roca, a first-year student from Porto Portugal, is pleasantly surprised. The fall semester at Bates, despite the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19, doesn’t feel as tough as she thought it would. “But at the same time,” she says, “it’s more challenging than it would have been in a normal year. Anything that makes you feel more comfortable and brings you a sense of normalcy definitely helps.”

For Roca, that’s Ping, the stuffed penguin she’s had since she was 8, who keeps watch over her Zoom classes and is always there when she returns to her dorm room. We talked to her and other Bates students about the treasured objects, from juggling clubs to house plants, that they brought with them to ease the stress of being away from home during a pandemic. 

Most chose something that reminds them of home. And given the increased alone time — given pandemic rules around gatherings and in-person activities — and general uncertainties experienced by each of our students, these mementos play an even greater role than usual in their peace of mind.

Linnéa Selendy ’23 of Stockholm, Sweden

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major: Environmental studies (intended)

What she brought: Custom-made wall calendar of her little cousins in Stockholm

Linnéa says: Being really far away from home is tough — especially my baby cousins who I don’t get to see often at all, maybe twice a year, who are really special to me. They’re like the sisters I never had. 

Cousin on left is Aléa, 9 (oh my gosh, she’s so old!), and on right is Yara, 7, and I literally remember them as if they were babies. I remember holding Aliya when I was 11. And she was taking her first steps when she was visiting me. They’re my mother’s sister’s daughters. They were born in Sweden, and their father is from Uruguay. They are dressed for Halloween.

Seeing them every day just puts a smile on my face.

This is a gift I get every birthday from my cousins and my aunt. It’s a tradition. At first I brought it with me because I thought — oh, it’s so cute. It just kind of keeps some Swedishness in my dorm.

Ever since I’ve been here it’s become more and more comforting to me, more than I realized it was going to be from the start. When times get hard, just the daily reminder of just crossing off each day — especially now — is making me feel I’m taking day by day more so than I did earlier in the year. Marking things that are going to be fun, to look forward to — Dunkin’ Donuts or a hike I’m taking —  and also school work. It’s right by my door, so every time I leave for class, I get to see it.

Ben Hoffinger ’22 of Arlington, Mass.

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major: American studies

What he brought: Juggling clubs

Ben says: I bring these juggling clubs here during any other semester but they have been especially nice this semester. Juggling them is something I really enjoy doing to relieve stress and to re-center myself, clear my head.

Maybe I’ve had a rough night or with work, stuff like that, and I will just come outside at night — I have light-up ones too — and I’ll just juggle juggling clubs to sort of relax and cool off. I mostly use the amphitheater because I live in Adams and it’s convenient. 

I am co-president of the Circus Club. It’s especially been important to me this semester just because we can’t always be socializing as much as we did in the past. It’s nice to have a hobby that I can work on in my free time that also even outdoors sparks social interaction because when people see you juggling they will come up to you — not right up to you — but to say, hey, like that’s kind of cool. Circus Club meets 4 to 5 p.m. on Sundays in Memorial Commons! We are always looking for new members, no experience necessary.

Helen Carr ’21 of Tarrytown, N.Y.

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Double Major: Politics and French and francophone studies

What she brought: Three mugs

Helen says: Each of these mugs has a story that’s important to me: someone who gave the mug to me, or a funny joke in some cases. But what I really love about them is that even on my worst day — or my best day — I can always make a cup of warm tea and it’ll always make me feel better. It will make me feel like I’m back home with my mom sitting on the couch drinking tea together.

This mug was made by a Bates studio art major who is now a graduate, Sarah Daehler ’19. This mug was given to me and all the other Purposeful Work interns from Bates who worked for Kellogg Hansen, a law firm in D.C. And lastly, this was a gift from my sister that she got when she was living in Scotland. It says “Ceci n’est pas une bagpipe,” which is a reference to “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” — it’s a painting by a French surrealist artist [Rene Magritte] who wanted to kind of demonstrate that a picture of something is not the thing itself, even though we understand it to be the thing itself. But she got it in Scotland, so it’s a bagpipe.

Though I love in-person classes, the benefit of Zoom classes is that I can always take tea breaks in the middle of class. So I’ll see how my day’s going and pick out which mug I want to use that day and make myself a cup of tea in the middle of class. 

Adam Banks ’21 of Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major: Environmental studies

What he brought: Plants

Adam says: I brought a lot of plants. Plants really help me out in the sense that they help me be mindful of the space I’m inhabiting. You’re co-existing with living things and you have to watch them and take care of them. It keeps a nice daily rhythm for me. This spider plant in particular might be from a larger one that I have. That larger one came from a plant that my mom had, and she gave me one of the babies.

Basically, whenever I see any of that line, it makes me think of her. It’s a nice little connection to home in that way. This semester, they have stronger connections, especially due to the fact that we haven’t been able to go home at all. 

Maria Rocha ’24 of Porto, Portugal

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major:  Not yet declared

What she brought: Plush penguin

Maria says: His name is Ping, which is short for pinguim, which means penguin in Portuguese. I remember my older sister Beatriz gave him to me when I was really, really young, 8 maybe, so I’ve had him for just over 10 years. I always take him everywhere with me. I went to boarding school in India, also very far away from home, so I took him with me. It helped make my room feel homier, because the whole environment was foreign to me. At least I had this one constant thing. And it’s similar at Bates. I always have him in my room; he’s just there.

I think because of the pandemic, we end up spending more time in our rooms. I have an online class when, even if I don’t notice him there, I feel that subconsciously seeing him there makes me feel a little bit better. 

Jasper Beardslee ’22 of Miami

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major:  Environmental studies

What he brought: Conch

Jasper says: It’s a conch shell and I brought it because Maine’s really different from Florida. Growing up in Miami meant that I was pretty connected to the ocean — and being near it at all times — through diving, surfing, and swimming.

I found this conch off of Elliott Key, which is right next to Miami. I was doing some free diving, and it was laying on the bottom, just empty and perfect looking so I picked it up and brought it home and decided to bring it to college with me. I’ve had it all three years at Bates. I put it right by my window so that the light hits it in the morning.

Even though it’s really tough to not be with my family during these trying times, as it grows colder and the sun goes down, I appreciate these trinkets more and more.

Madeleine Lee ’24 of Providence, R.I.

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Major: Not yet declared

What she brought: Parents’ wedding photograph

Madeleine says: The story is that on my first day of pre-school I was really nervous, and I went clutching this picture of my parents on their wedding day, and also one of my mom’s shirts, and there’s a picture of me holding this looking terrified.

I recreated the picture with my friend, who was in the pre-school photo with me, on my first day of senior year in high school. Then on my first day of classes here at Bates — my first day of classes ever in college — I went to Post and Print, and my parents had sent me this photo. It’s a sweet little reminder that they’re always with me, and I just love having it in my dorm room. It was kind of better than any kind of care package I could imagine because it was so sentimental.

On your first day of school when you’re a child, you take the pictures by the door and have all these little traditions. So at Bates, it was my first day of school without my parents, and I wasn’t really feeling nervous, but opening it made me miss them — it was so special that they would remember to send it.

This is definitely the longest I’ve been away from my parents. Being able to Facetime them whenever I want is certainly different from how scary it felt in preschool the first day I was away from them all day and all I had was this picture to remind me that they were right there. It’s come full-circle. I’m sure I’ll have it with me on my last first-day of classes ever in my senior year at Bates.

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