‘It’s kind of my journey on the way of adulting’: How freshmen who spent the fall semester at home have adjusted to an in-person spring
During the first week of classes, a common sight on Washington University’s campus is leagues of freshmen exploring their home for the next four years. Usually getting this initial lay of the land is an event that happens in the warm months of August and September. However, for freshmen who had attended classes remotely for their first semester of college, getting a first look at campus wasn’t something done in short sleeves and T-shirts, but rather under the many layers of clothing necessary for the bitter St. Louis conditions of mid-January.
This event, the “Find Your Classes Tour,” was one of the many initiatives of the First-Year Center aimed at helping formerly remote freshmen transition to being in person, said Katharine Pei, director of the First-Year Center. Other programs included small-group meetings with WUSAs and a short phone call with a student leader explaining campus policies. Despite the bad weather, the tour was the most well-attended of the events the First-Year Center held for these roughly 60 freshmen, which is characteristic of the eagerness these students have to connect with the community.
Although the First-Year Center and Campus Life have been holding events like the tour, and despite them being well-attended, the ways that formerly remote students are connecting to the greater University community stem from a far more “grassroots” affair, explained Pei. These have included GroupMe chats and clubs, methods not uncommon among this year’s freshman class.
“When I got here, I joined every organization that interested me,” said freshman Matthew Magnani. “I tried hard to get out there and meet as many people as I could.”
While at home, Magnani was able to make friends through his online classes. Although this helped him feel more a part of the community, he still felt isolated because of his inability to actually hang out with his friends as well as the struggle of trying to “stay in touch” with what was happening on campus. Now that he’s in-person, he finds himself in a similar position to many other formerly remote students, his transition from remote to in-person being largely characterized by wanting to “make up for” what he’d missed out on while at home.
For most remote students, the biggest place to play catch-up is the social aspect of campus life, though some have found this has been made easier by initiatives they took while still at home.
“I’m proud of myself,” said freshman Neha Adari, “in the sense of reaching out and actually trying out and joining clubs.” While she was remote, she was able to make a core group of friends that had regular meetings over Zoom, and she joined extracurriculars, such as the First Year Class Council (FYCC), of which she is the vice president of programming. “It made it easier for me to connect with everyone in the University.”
Additionally, Adari has been able to meet plenty of new people due to the overall welcoming environment of campus. Living in Shepley, she has also been able to meet others in her dorm through chemistry and biology study groups. Magnani, too, has also found that he’s been able to meet people easily due to their friendliness.
“Everyone is super inclusive and super supportive and trying to get to know each other and stuff like that,” Magnani explained. “[They’ve] been helping me feel just included.”
Even as campus newcomers say the vibes on the South 40 are friendly, some are missing the sense of eagerness to make friends that campus had back in September.
“It doesn’t seem like people are that eager to really be reaching out unless you’re also a new student here,” said Maxine Zhang, a new-to-campus freshman from Seattle. Since coming to campus, Zhang has put a lot of effort into meeting people, while in Seattle, she had focused more on connecting with old friends. “I knew that if I felt pressure to make friends, then I would just be a lot more stressed.”
All of the reaching out, though, has taken its toll, leaving remote-to-in-person students like Zhang feeling rather drained from trying to catch up on all the socializing they missed out on.
“Because I’m kind of an introvert,” Zhang said, “it is very mentally exhausting to try and reach out to people.”
The transition from remote to in-person has also caused these students to come to terms with what most freshmen learned back in September and October—college isn’t high school. Living on their own, friends aren’t right in front of them, and instead, they have to go out and forge those bonds themselves.
“I’ve just been learning so much because I’m having to do everything on my own,” said Adari, who used last semester to spend more time with her family, including her six-year-old brother. “It’s kind of my journey on the way of adulting.”