Community, Coronavirus, Features

A transformed college experience: perspectives of rising BU freshmen

The prospect of college has drastically changed this year. Instead of welcoming a packed crowd of incoming freshmen with lively dance and music performances, Boston University hosted an online Orientation this summer, transforming how new students experience on-campus spirit and community.

Many incoming students aren’t even coming to campus this Fall as BU implements its Learn from Anywhere plan, in which students can choose to take their classes either in person or online throughout the semester.

College life has been remodeled, and freshmen have nothing to compare it to.

Henry Nossiter, a freshman entering the College of Arts and Sciences, has accepted this new reality. Arriving from France, he has already experienced lockdowns unlike that of the U.S., due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With that frame of reference, Nossiter said he is more willing to accept BU’s restrictions and appreciates the in-person opportunity.

Nossiter said he is excited for what the Fall semester will bring, and is glad to have the chance to not sit at home.

“I did make the conscious choice to come and stay at BU and come to in-person classes, because I wanted to feel like life was moving forward,” Nossiter said. “I suppose I just wanted to get the ball rolling and at least feel like I’m moving on with my life.”

Still, Nossiter said he recognizes the shortcomings of his “neutered” college situation. The muted social life will mean fewer and smaller social gatherings, leaving just the academic face of the college experience.

“I think it’ll make life here seem a little more slow and difficult than it would otherwise, just because I won’t be sure that I’ll have that release of just being able to go out and gather with my friends,” Nossiter said. “It certainly gives you less to look forward to, in terms of college life.”

CAS freshman Ulala Kajioka has also opted for the in-person route. Although she is nervous about coronavirus transmission, she said she could not forgo the interpersonal college experience and would prefer a gap year over online schooling.

“This has been something I’ve been looking forward to for a really long time,” Kajioka said. “It is really disappointing that I won’t get the full experience, because I feel like this is like a rite of passage.”

Kajioka found her roommate online, but otherwise has had difficulty connecting virtually with BU students. She said she believes even a restricted in-person presence can help, but will still not provide the full experience of being in the BU community.

Diminished social access is even more difficult for those attending online, like CAS freshman Jason Su. Living in Hong Kong, where the coronavirus situation is more stable than in the U.S., Su decided that remaining home for the Fall semester would be safer.

However, this means he must communicate through more impersonal mediums — social media and Zoom.

“I managed to meet a couple of people through orientations and through joining Facebook groups,” Su said. “It’s definitely a great way to at least get a foundation of knowing people before being in person in January.”

Studying in a time zone 12 hours ahead of Boston has left Su taking courses in the late evening. But for some classes that quickly filled, he was pushed into 2 a.m. class times. He said this is a sub-optimal academic situation, especially as Zoom sessions cannot replace an in-person education.

Rigpea Wangchuck, a freshman in the College of Engineering studying remotely from India, found a perk in staying home. Wangchuck must buy his own equipment for classes instead of using university-provided resources, which he said allows him a more flexible and individual experience.

“Having my own things, I can do so much more,” Wangchuck said. “Once I dive more into the course, I can find out more about what I can do with this equipment to benefit me.”

Wangchuck said he is also excited to be able to share his work with his family and friends. After living away from home for years, quarantine has allowed his relationship with them to strengthen, compensating for the weakened social experience at BU.

“I used to go to a boarding school, and this is the longest period in eight years that I’ve been together with them,” Wangchuck said. “I can really share what I’m learning and I can physically show the products to them, and I think all these things bring us closer together.”

Mariam Hydara has also strengthened her familial bonds in quarantine. As a freshman in the College of General Studies, she will start classes in January and study in London next summer, making up for the missed Fall semester.

Hydara said she is using her gap semester to work, tend to her mental health and further her family bonds.

“My siblings and I were all in the house together,” Hydara said. “I experienced new sides of my siblings that I didn’t realize before, like my brother’s really funny, which I never knew.”

Hydara said she hopes her Spring semester will be less consumed by the coronavirus. But she said the future, like the present, is murky with unanswered questions.

“[At first] I was like ‘Okay, there’s no way this is going to reach the summer,’ and then it did. And then I was like ‘Okay, there’s no way, it’s going to impact the Fall semester,’ and then it did,” Hydara said. “So now, there’s really no way to assume how far this will reach.”

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