Excited and overwhelmed: How students feel about the transition back to in-person learning

| Contributing Reporter
masked people sit in grey patterned chairs on the right side of a hallway. On the left side, masked people exit from a doorway and walk down the hallway.Holden Hindes | Student Life

Masked students walk between classes in Simon Hall

After a full month of the fall semester, Washington University students of all years report mixed reactions to the return of in-person learning after a mostly virtual last year.

Many students are both excited and overwhelmed with the adjustment from virtual to in-person college experience. Sophomore Jessica Boyd, along with the rest of her class, is adjusting to a campus that looks significantly different from last year.

“Adapting to a campus where there’s so much happening at once and figuring out what things I want to be a part of is a process because I didn’t do that last year,” Boyd said. “I’ve had to learn how to organize my life when everything’s opened up and there’s so much to do all the time.”

Even students who have experienced a fully in-person semester said that the abrupt change in daily organization has been a challenge. Senior Lawton Blanchard said that it has been difficult adjusting to a structured schedule given the time commitment but that overall, this year is better than last.

“I’m exhausted because I’m doing way too much, but I’m so happy to be doing it because I’m happy to be around people and to be doing things I actually enjoy,” Blanchard said.

While freshmen had a week-long orientation to ease into the start of classes, Blanchard thinks upperclassmen were “thrown to the wolves” with the adjustment back to an in-person experience.

Other students have more readily welcomed the difference in structure this year. “Now, it’s a structured schedule with going to class, getting up and studying, which I find very beneficial to my personal learning,” sophomore Nic Sprague said.

Reflecting on the past, mostly virtual academic year, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Rob Wild is pleased with what University community members accomplished despite the challenges. He said that with about 15% of students choosing to study fully remotely last year, it was important that the University offered a variety of virtual activities to continue building community among students.

“I’m proud of what we’re able to do; that our faculty were able to pivot, that we still had many classes that were taught in person, that we were able to have a campus experience for students who wanted that and as well as a remote experience for students who wanted that option as well,” Wild said.

The University’s vaccine requirement is the main reason that the University was able to conduct in-person activities this semester. Still, students like Boyd, Blanchard and Student Union President junior Ranen Miao think that the administration should be more transparent with COVID-19 policies and decision making.

Managing mental health has been a common difficulty during the pandemic among students who felt isolated. However, the return to in-person classes has facilitated increased participation and engagement among peers.

“Even with constraints, it still just feels a lot more personal,” Miao said. “You feel like you can be a lot more vulnerable and a lot more open with people. I think that’s definitely something that the virtual space does not offer.”

“I think that as a result of not being able to participate in campus things, I’ve noticed that everyone around me is extra participating,” Boyd said. “People have hobbies that I didn’t even know they had.”

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