Two and a half years ago, the American school system was shut down and irrevocably altered by COVID-19. Students in their first and second years of college have never had a normal undergraduate experience, and many are now experiencing New College for the first time in person. New College’s newer students tell of social isolation, difficulty adjusting to physical classes, and excitement for burgeoning campus culture.
Most students had a fully or partially online senior year of high school.
“Last year I was in high school and I took all of my classes online,” first-year Meghan Courtrade said. “It was definitely an isolating time for me. I’m so happy to be attending school in person this year.”
“My senior year of high school ended very abruptly and we did online for the last month of school remaining, which was weird,” second-year Katrine Bruner said, who took a gap year last year to avoid being a virtual college freshman.
“I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t great,” second-year Christian Wing said, looking back on his first year at New College. He had only one in person class each semester.
“Online classes, not many people on campus, and the stress multiplier of COVID-19 made things pretty rough at times,” Wing continued. “There were some good times: I got involved in some stuff I cared about, the professors and the classes in general were cool. But sometimes I think about it and think, ‘Huh, that was really my freshman year.’”
A similar refrain was heard from students all last year: campus was something of an uncanny ghost town. The typical New College greeting of looking away from any passerby as though avoiding Medusa’s steely gaze is a bit more strange when they’re the only person in sight. Now, adjusting to the sudden influx of students is its own challenge.
“This semester has been kind of difficult,” Wing said. “I don’t do so well in hectic environments, so getting used to all these new people being here and all classes being in person hasn’t been easy. I’m suddenly very conscious of my appearance and demeanor. There are so many people in Ham now, as well as a wall within it, and they put alarms on the back doors. The food is, well… Ham food.”
Most students seemed to feel positively about the new semester over all.
“It’s weird just transitioning to a new scene, new life, and not to mention being back in classes in person and everything,” Bruner said. “But I’m very grateful to be here and that I can get hands-on learning even through a pandemic, still.”
The adjustment isn’t proving too difficult for Courtrade, and she and Bruner both appreciated how respectful everyone is of the pandemic.
“I can definitely tell all the professors are excited to be back in person again,” Courtrade added.
And new students seem excited about the return to campus life: both Bruner and Courtrade said they’ve already been attending events to better acquaint themselves with fellow students.
“I haven’t been to any Walls, but I have gone to a couple events SA[u]CE has hosted. They are always fun to attend and have a new experience with friends,” Courtrade said.
Bruner praised the amount of “diverse activities available for students to see and attend,” and her experience at yoga classes and bayfront meditation sessions.
“I’ve also attended some club events and it’s been a great way to immerse myself in the community,” Bruner continued.
Hopefully, this trend continues. With Sarasota’s COVID-19 numbers—significantly higher than when the school shut down two and a half years ago—some students are still apprehensive.
“I guess we’re supposed to be going ‘back to normal,’ but things just keep getting weirder,” Wing said.