A Surprising Friendship In the Time of COVID-19

In previous blog posts, I have talked about how my experience as a Campus Ambassador has kept me feeling close to campus despite being hundreds of miles away. While this has been absolutely crucial, an even more surprising element popped up. A person, a wonderful friend, really, who would end up changing quarantine entirely for me. We never should have even met, let alone connect to the extent we did. The stars had to align for a set of crazy circumstances to come together.

First semester freshman year in Fall of 2018, I joined a club called Project SMILE, a middle school mentorship club that worked out of two different schools to bring college accessibility to middle school students. I was placed at Longfellow middle school and absolutely loved my experience working with them. I’d joined the club to make friends and to make an impact on the Berkeley community.  I went to all of the social events, every field trip, every possible opportunity I had to get involved.

Second semester sophomore year, Spring 2018, my friend joined Project SMILE just as a way to do something good for the community and get away from the hustle and bustle of Berkeley. He was placed at Willard, the other middle school. He just wanted to help out some middle school students. He never went to a single event.

An entire semester of us being apart of the same club went by without us ever meeting.

Every club does recruitment at the start of the semester. With over 1200 organizations on campus, getting people to join yours can be a time consuming but invigorating game. It’s a relatively standard formula: go and advertise your organization on Sproul Plaza for the first two weeks of classes by handing out flyers, talking up the organization, etc and host information sessions for those who you manage to get interested. Both are crucial to club recruitment, but the information session is how you really get people to join. I’d gone to one for Project SMILE when I was looking into clubs and it was the main reason I had joined.

As an overeager freshman who was just getting her footing at Cal, I was beyond excited when I was asked to speak at one of the Project SMILE information sessions.

Going into second semester of his junior year now, my now friend was not super thrilled about going to speak at an information session. He enjoyed the club but didn’t exactly see the appeal of talking to a bunch of freshmen. Still, he was friends with the president of the organization, so why not?

We showed up to the information session at almost the exact same time. Relieved that we’d found the one other person there who wasn’t apart of Project SMILE leadership, we started talking. It felt like we’d known each other for years despite having never interacted. At the end of the information session, we went our separate ways and didn’t see each other for another eight months.

I’d been elected as a board member for Project SMILE and ran the workshops at the school that I was not a mentor for. In other words, I was at Willard, same as this guy I’d met months before. He always made an effort to say hi to me when he saw me there, but nothing more than that.

COVID-19 started causing national panic, prompting UC Berkeley to move all classes online through Spring Break. The day before I left to go home for what I thought would only be three weeks, I found myself studying in the Earth Science and Map library in McCone Hall after one of my classes. And who sat down next to me other than this random guy I’d met well over a year ago! He remembered my name, said hi to me, I said hi back, completely forgetting his name. He revealed that he was only there because the East Asian Library, the library directly next to the one we were in, was full.  As I was getting up to leave, he asked where I was going. It was late and I was planning on going to eat dinner at a local sandwich shop, Mezzo on my way home. Long story short he invited himself along and we hung out for a couple hours, solidifying a friendship that should have existed long ago.

We talked a bit over the course of the next few weeks, realizing that quarantine would certainly be lasting the entire semester. The first time we video chatted, I noticed something in his background: a very familiar building. I asked where he was and quickly found out that he had been living in the building across the street from my family home in San Diego! The building I had seen in his background was, in fact, my building.

Once the stay at home order had lifted, we hung out constantly (socially distanced of course). The fact that we were already so close geographically to each other made for an easy friendship to develop despite the pandemic. The more we hung out, the more grateful I was for our friendship. I missed Berkeley so much that just having someone to hang out with in person that had gone through a lot of what I had gone through, who understood how wonderful those experiences were, was beyond incredible. Despite being hundreds of miles away, the two of us represent a piece of home for the other. Having that connection has brought us closer to each other and to the place we both love so dearly. I am grateful for my new found friendship despite all of the obstacles I had to face, for it brought me closer to my home than I thought was possible. My summer is forever changed as a result and I’ll never forget my lovely, beautiful bay. I suppose the moral of this story is don’t worry too much: let things come to you. Chances come and go at Cal, some sticking, some moving away. Let yourself relax and appreciate what does stick. Who knows, your summer could change forever.  To Oski and others at Cal, I miss you <3

–Kaelyn (she/her/hers): Geography / Society & Environment

32.716° N, 117.166° W



Author: Kaelyn Schlegel

Hello all! I'm a third year double majoring in Human Geography as well as Society & Environment. When I'm not writing for the blog or giving a tour, I'm usually hiking, roller skating, or working on sick marketing strategies for a UC Berkeley student run apparel company called Fratty Bear! Ask me about 37.8751° N, 122.2387° W