In a small room, an ocean away from family

An out-of-state student’s personal essay about being isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic


Photo of Leeward Coast in Oahu by Krysta Pae.

Krysta Pae, Community News Reporter

I grew up in a small town in Hawaii in a household of seven: myself, my three older brothers, my parents, and my grandmother. Grandma was always home, and when she wasn’t, one of my parents was. And when they weren’t, one of my brothers was in charge.

The first 17 years of my life, I was surrounded by people 24/7. I was never alone.

When I moved to Los Angeles by myself in 2015, right out of high school and armed with nothing but my motivation to work in the television industry, I made it a point to never let myself be alone. I joined a sorority, developed multiple friend groups, and got myself into an immature Freshman year romance or two. Sunday nights that I used to spend watching movies with my parents were now board game nights with my roommates.

Being busy and going out all day every day helped offset the overwhelming surge of homesickness that I felt.

In high school, my graduating class was barely 100, the second biggest ever. I am now in a city of nearly 4 million people and a university campus with more than 26,000 students.

There was no going home for the weekends, or having my family visit during Spring break. 

A five-hour plane ride was the only way I could see them.

So, when COVID-19 took its grip this year and I was forced to stay in my small bedroom, I was put into a position I had never contemplated before. I had to experience a global pandemic alone. Although my roommates were with me, they’re both essential workers so most of our interactions were “hi” or “bye.” Nothing like being with my family.

Like many others, I started out viewing the quarantine as a break. I was super excited to be able to do classes from home; no more waking up early and living off of iced coffees to stay alert during lecture. 

Eventually, reality caught up to me. With nothing to distract myself from the world shutting down, it was as if I was hit with six years of homesickness all at once. I started to question if being so far away from home was the best decision. 

My niece was born during the pandemic, and I missed all her newborn moments because of how far away I was from my family. I now had to consider that if worse comes to worse and one of my loved ones succumbed to the virus, I would never get a real goodbye with them because I would be so far away. Even without COVID-19, that risk will always be there. So much could happen during a flight across the Pacific.

It has weighed on my mind for the past nine months. For the first time in my life, I’ve had to experience loneliness, and for nearly an entire year straight. It’s hard. I don’t think I could properly put into words how much I’ve had to struggle within the silence of my own bedroom. For the first time in my life, I’ve questioned whether or not I wanted to live in Los Angeles. 

My friends are nice about it. They know it’s harder for me, being so far away from my family. My weekly calls to them keep my mind off of things and help keep my mental health in check.

The silver lining in all of this is realizing how lucky I am to have them and how lucky I have been all of these years to have such a big, rambunctious and loving family. When I’m home in Hawaii, I have company at all times: Someone to talk to or cook, read or watch movies with. Not everyone has that. And even though we are an ocean apart, my love for them fills my heart.

Community News reporters are enrolled in JOUR 3910 – University Times. They produce stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]