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.

First up is Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge. She attends a private, out-of-state liberal arts college.

What college do you attend and what do you plan to study?

I attend Brown University in Providence, RI and am planning on double concentrating in American Studies and the History of Art and Architecture

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

Brown made the announcement that they would close the campus and move to online learning on March 12, a Thursday morning. Classes would be canceled for the next two weeks to give undergraduates time to pack up and go home, and then classes would continue online. While it was not a surprise (rumors had been circulating for a few days), it was really difficult to hear it officially.

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

Like most other undergraduates, I went home to live with my parents. That involved packing up my whole dorm in the span of two days, organizing the logistics with the storage company, saying goodbye to campus, then taking a plane across the country. Those last few days were not only physically exhausting but so emotionally taxing. Trying to process the catastrophic news of the escalating crisis, along with everything that was happening with my own personal situation, was overwhelming.

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

The adjustment to online learning went very well for me—most of my classes were able to translate really well, and I definitely still learned as much as I had been before. A couple of my professors changed our final assignments to be related to the pandemic, which felt very fresh and relevant. One of them—the Brown Undergraduate COVID-19 Archives—even grew to become a long-term project that I am still working on.

I also struggled with creating a balance between my personal life and my academic studies—often the boundaries became blurred, and it was harder and harder to find the motivation to study.

Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge

However, there were also some drawbacks to online learning. One of my classes was a studio art course, which was very difficult to do at home since I relied on the university studios for a workspace and supplies. I also struggled with creating a balance between my personal life and my academic studies—often the boundaries became blurred, and it was harder and harder to find the motivation to study.

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

One of the most difficult things about leaving Brown was leaving all of the friends I had made! I did my best to check in with them every so often via text and social media. Every so often, we would organize group Zoom calls, but it was hard finding the time considering we all had busy school schedules and were in different time zones across the country.

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?

Brown will make a decision as to what next year will look like by July 15. Right now, they are working with three options: classes being completely online and campus staying closed, campus reopening with protective social distancing measures in place, and the schedule converting to a trimester system with each student being assigned to 2/3 of the trimesters (limiting the number of students and staff on campus overall). Right now, I am not sure what I plan to do. I want to go back to Brown so badly, but I am also realistic of how unlikely it is for things to “go back to normal”. I will just have to see what decision the Brown administration decides to make.

How will you remember your first year of college?

While it will likely be impossible to separate this pandemic from my first-year experience, I will always remember how amazing my first year was. I have LOVED my (limited) time at Brown so far. I have met the most amazing people, gotten to join some great clubs, taken meaningful and fulfilling classes, etc. There is and will always be so much more to my first year than this pandemic, and I hope that always remains the case as I look back on this year.

Editor’s Note: Cami Brix is a former intern at EEN.

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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)