Stories from College: students recall abrupt ending to spring semester while trying to plan for an uncertain future

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When I started my freshman year of college, I certainly had a lot of mixed feelings. I was anxious to get started, nervous about being in a new place and wondering what life would be like at my new school.

Of course, I never anticipated my first year would get interrupted by a worldwide pandemic.
So, like so many other students, I finished the school year not on campus but at home. And needless to say, it was a pretty remarkable experience on a lot of levels.

To get a better sense of what life was life for first-year college students during coronavirus, I interviewed seven of them from a variety of schools (large, small, public, private, in-state, out-of-state, satellite, etc.). I’ll be sharing these as a series of posts in this space.

Here’s the fourth installment in this series – Sigrun Payne is a rising sophomore at a regional liberal arts college.

What college do you attend, and what is your intended major/s and possible minor/s?

I attend the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. I am currently planning on double majoring in music and English.

When and how did your college react to the COVID-19 pandemic?

UPS first reacted to COVID in mid-March. A week before our spring break, they switched us to online classes temporarily. After our spring break, they made the change extend through the end of the semester. They allowed students to remain on campus only under unique circumstances.

How were you impacted by the transition to social distancing and online learning?

It was a difficult transition for me, as I had to return to living with my parents after a year on my own. We clashed quite a bit. It was also difficult, of course, to leave my friends and only be able to see them over video chat. However, most of my professors handled the transition well, creating more lenient and understanding grading policies and doing their best to find the advantages of lecturing online. 

What were the benefits and drawbacks of your college online learning experience?

Many of my classes remained similar to what they had been in the classroom. However, discussions were harder to have under online circumstances. My music classes were the most difficult to have online. Choir could no longer rehearse, and we essentially had to completely remake the course. My piano lessons were inhibited as well.

I essentially had no contact with my classmates….We did not communicate outside the virtual classroom, which was unfortunate. I wish we could have figured out virtual study sessions, because studying with peers is extremely valuable.

Sigrun Payne

To what extent and how did you keep in contact with your peers and professors at college?

I communicated with my professors over email and during class. I essentially had no contact with my classmates, however. We did not communicate outside the virtual classroom, which was unfortunate. I wish we could have figured out virtual study sessions, because studying with peers is extremely valuable.

Has your college announced its plans for the fall? Are you considering changing your plans to return based on what your college does? If so, would you consider taking a year off to work or do something else, transfer to another school, or plan to return no matter what?

Currently, UPS is planning to return in the fall with some significant changes. I think these changes mainly pertain to class size and large gatherings. I plan to return to UPS no matter what, but only because I do not want to put a pause on my piano education. I want to continue lessons, even online lessons, with my piano professor at UPS. Were I not a pianist, or maybe even if I had a different piano professor, I would definitely consider taking a gap semester and finding a job.

How will you remember your first year of college?

Overall, my first year of college was exciting, challenging, and scary. It was a period of tremendous personal growth. COVID made it more difficult, and certainly there are many people who have been forced into extremely difficult situations, but for me, things aren’t too terrible. I don’t regret my freshman year.

Editor’s Note: Cami Brix is a former intern at EEN who recently completed her first year of study at Swarthmore College.

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Our seven-part series “Stories From School” shares the personal experiences of first-year college students from a variety of campuses during the coronavirus pandemic. Their perspectives on how things went can help guide colleges as they go about re-opening this Fall.

Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge (Brown University)

Rachel Lawson (Fordham College of Rose Hill)

Olivia Sasson (University of British Columbia)

Nathan Mitchell (University of Washington)

Kara Leinenwever (UW Bothell/Arizona State)

Sigrun Payne (University of Puget Sound)

Cami Brix (Swarthmore College)