PHOTOS: Balancing School And Sisterhood During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Julia Korzeniowski thumb
Manuel Martinez, Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ
Julia Korzeniowski thumb
Manuel Martinez, Katherine Nagasawa / WBEZ

PHOTOS: Balancing School And Sisterhood During The COVID-19 Pandemic

This fall, we’ve been checking in with Julia Korzeniowski, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Chicago, as she navigates her first semester of college remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On a recent Thursday, she showed us what a typical day in her life looks like through her eyes.

Michael Korzeniowski breakfast
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

Julia starts her morning around 8:30 a.m. with tea — and some breakfast with her 8-year-old brother Michael. Both of Julia’s parents work outside the home, so she and her grandparents, who live with the family at their Hoffman Estates home, lend a hand with Michael during the day.

Julia and Michael Korzeniowski
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

After breakfast, Julia helps Michael log on for his first class of the day. His charter school recently switched from a hybrid schedule to remote learning only, and since her grandparents don’t speak English, Julia is taking the lead in helping him with his schoolwork. In some ways, she sees herself as “not just a full-time student, but a part-time teacher and babysitter.”

So far, Michael seems to be adjusting OK to the new schedule, she said. “The biggest thing he said is, ‘Oh, I miss all my friends, but I get to sleep in!’”

Julia Korzeniowski desk
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ
Julia Korzeniowski essay
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

After she helps Michael get set up, Julia dives into her own courses. She’s taking six classes this semester in the hopes it will help her graduate early, but her Thursday schedule is on the lighter side. That gives her some time to wrap up an essay for her History 101 class on World War II and the Holocaust.

Julia Korzeniowski Zoom
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

After making some progress on the essay, Julia logs on for her Experience UIC class, which most liberal arts and sciences students take during their first year. Having your camera on is optional, she said, which means she doesn’t always have face-to-face interactions with her classmates. Today, students are giving presentations, so most people keep their cameras off.

Julia Korzeniowski cooking
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ
Julia Korzeniowski luncg
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

After she’s done with class, it’s time for a lunch break. One major benefit of learning from home is being able to make her own meals, she said, adding that cooking “helps me destress and focus on myself a bit.”

On Thursday, she bakes some garlic parsley sweet potatoes in the oven and sautés some Polish sausage and onions for herself and Michael.

Julia Korzeniowski grandparents
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

During her lunch break, Julia also gets to spend a little quality time with her grandparents, who she wouldn’t see as often if she was living in the dorms. Today, her grandma Malgorzata is assisting her grandpa Zdzislaw with a crossword puzzle.

Tegu lizard
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ
Tegu lizard eating
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

Mid-afternoon means it’s feeding time for the Korzeniowski’s tegu lizard, Lily, who’s a little less than four feet long.

Usually, Julia’s 17-year-old brother Thomas feeds Lily. But today, it’s Julia’s job since he’s busy in class.

“We gave her homemade turkey meatballs with squash and kale. She definitely gets spoiled.”

The family also has a saltwater aquarium, multiple freshwater aquariums and a medley of geckos, snakes, frogs and scorpions.

Michael Korzeniowski
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

In the late afternoon, Julia helps Michael set up a Zoom call with a friend he’s been missing so they can catch up and help each other with math homework. She said the family has been more lenient about Michael’s screen time during the pandemic. Since he attends a charter school, the family doesn’t live close to many of his friends.

“He’s a lone wolf. He has a little motorcycle and sometimes he’ll go off by himself and ride it around the neighborhood for a half an hour.”

Julia Korzeniowski at laptop
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

Julia ends her day working on some required lab activities, then drops Michael off at a math tutor. While she waits for him, she does some Christmas shopping.

Julia Michael Dunkin'
Julia Korzeniowski / WBEZ

After Julia picks Michael up from his math lessons, they end the day with hot chocolates at Dunkin’ Donuts. She said that their relationship hasn’t changed much since when she was in high school — just the amount of time spent together.

She said it’s sometimes hard because “I’m forcing him to do some work, but then afterwards he gets over it, and we’ll cook together, play with his nerf gun or go to the park.”

She said that while her classes remain virtual, she’s happy to put in extra effort to keep Michael occupied.

“I know how busy my parents are, so [it’s nice] being able to take that pressure off of them if I have extra time — half an hour or an hour — to make sure he isn’t dying of boredom at home.”

Libby Berry is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow her @libbaberry. Katherine Nagasawa is WBEZ’s audience engagement producer. Follow her @Kat_Nagasawa.