For the past year, Boston University students have encountered tremendous and sudden changes to the quintessential college experience. On top of it all, College of General Studies Class of 2024 students, who arrived at BU this Spring, face additional hurdles.
The Class of 2024 arrived on campus last month after a Fall gap semester — a typical component of the CGS program, but one that occurred in a very atypical time given the pandemic-related limits on internships, travel and activities.
The draw of the CGS program tends to be the London summer program in usual times — when students study abroad in the Spring or summer after their first semester in college — but last year’s students conducted the program remotely.
CGS is expected to announce its Summer 2021 London plans to students and faculty March 1, Sam Nafie, a CGS freshman, said.
“I’m trying not to get my hopes up,” she said, “just in case.”
Another CGS freshman, Adelene Jeneid, said the gap semester felt like an intimidating chunk of time to fill.
“Honestly, I’ve always looked forward to college, and getting this semester off was definitely a smack in the face,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do with this time?’”
Due to COVID-19, Jeneid had to stay home and work for her local government instead of working at an American embassy abroad over the gap semester.
For Jeneid, the possibility of going to London for six weeks is more than just an exciting experience — it’s something she looked forward to even more after the pandemic started.
“In my head this whole time, I’m thinking ‘It’s going to be worth it, you’re going to London, six weeks, it’ll be a blast, you’ll make amazing memories,’” she said. “I just hope it happens.”
Jeneid said she is interested to see how the London program will operate if it’s able to and whether BU will require extra safety measures for participating students, despite the trip being a little over a month long.
“How are they going to administer COVID tests when they’re there?” Jeneid said. “Are they going to make us take the vaccine before we go? Are we quarantining there for two weeks before we attend in-person classes? The whole thing is six weeks.”
She said being accepted to start in the Spring and not the Fall was another “curveball” to an already unsettling year, but hopes the pandemic doesn’t continue to affect her college schedule.
“It’s something that I’ve, in my head, put as an excuse as to why I didn’t start according to my timeline,” Jeneid said. “I really wanted to start school in the Fall.”
Rayhan Bhamani committed to BU early decision before the pandemic last year. However, he said though activities such as the gap semester and London program could potentially be affected by the pandemic, those aspects of the program weren’t the core reason he chose BU.
“I was undecided in my major, and it allowed me to explore a bunch of different options that BU has to offer,” he said. “I feel like the London program was just another plus.”
Nafie said she committed to BU in late April of last year, but said she tried to limit her exposure to the virus and socially distanced before starting classes. However, BU’s pandemic preparedness and its academic adjustments made her feel confident about her decision.
“I’ve found that a lot of professors are actually making the best of what we have,” Nafie said. “Sometimes I feel like, honestly, Zoom could be more useful in terms of discussion groups with the raise hand feature and everything.”
Professors have also been adjusting to the new group of students and their learning obstacles. Shawn Lynch, a social sciences lecturer in CGS and member of the CGS Faculty Council, said he has been feeling the pressure.
“It is a challenge, I have some anxiety about being in the classroom and managing that well,” Lynch said. “However, I know that BU has been working hard and they are trying to do everything they can to build this infrastructure.”
So far, Lynch said, the semester has been going very well.
“Our team has had an extremely strong start,” Lynch said. “I’m very pleased, despite the challenges.”
Lynch said to his students he will keep his classes as “normal” as he is permitted to. He added he will teach as he always does — just on Zoom this time.
Lynch said he was saddened to watch his students miss out on key programs, especially when the Class of 2023 lost their London Program last summer.
“I’ve had bad moments, but the worst moment of my life was going to Zoom when they cancelled London,” Lynch said. “That was just awful. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, how I was going to face them. Because they earned it, and it was taken away from them.”
Through these losses, Lynch said he learned of his students’ resilience over the past year. They helped him have optimism moving forward, he said.
Despite the challenges both the CGS Class of 2023 and 2024 faced, Lynch said he believes their time at BU has not been a waste.
“I don’t believe that they were all cheated,” he said, “Maybe I’m naive, but I think that the bond that our team, lecturers and professors, formed with them, I really believe that they were 100 percent honest.”