By SARAH DOOLITTLE, Four Points News
Some Vandegrift graduates are adjusting to college life at home after COVID-19 forced closures of nearly all U.S. college campuses.
Colleges were among the first educational institutions to elect to transition their students to online-only learning for the remainder of the school year, with most choosing to do so mid-March, well before many school districts made the same call. Most colleges required students to move out of campus housing at the same time.
Riley Hamrick is a freshman at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where he has been studying marketing.
He remembers seeing memes and other references to the coronavirus outbreak online but had no expectation that it would impact students in the U.S. “The last thing on my mind was, oh, school’s going to get cancelled for the rest of the year,” he explained.
In the week before spring break, though, TTU, like many other universities, moved quickly to limit the potential spread of the virus on campus. “The night before I had been studying for exams,” Hamrick recalled. “And I woke up early the next morning because I had an exam… And my roommate was like, Hey, have you checked your email yet this morning?”
Hamrick logged on and saw that the university president had emailed to inform students that classes would move online indefinitely once spring break ended.
“With Spring break being about a day away, I started to pack my car up with the majority of the stuff in my dorm,” he said. “I had a pretty good idea that… I would at least not be coming back for a good while.”
Kayla McAfee had a similar experience while at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where she’s also a freshman and studying business marketing.
Her teachers “started hinting a lot” that classes might be moving online, and on March 12, students were told via email that the rest of the year would be online-only.
“So they emailed us March 12th… and I was home by March 15th,” explained McAfee , whose parents made the eight hour drive to help her pack up and move out of her dorm room.
“I packed up everything and fully moved out,” said McAfee , “because they said the campus was staying open as of then, but if anyone on campus tested positive they would have to close it,” which did happen within two weeks.
Rohan Gupta is a senior at the University of Texas, Austin, studying psychology and had an off-campus apartment. Still, when the time came, he made the decision to move back in with his parents and brother in Steiner Ranch.
“They identified West Campus as a hotspot,” where Gupta’s apartment was located. “I canceled my spring break plans. So it really just came down to… the creature comforts of being back home. You have mom’s cooking and time with family.”
Now that all three are back in Steiner Ranch under stay-at-home orders, they are learning to adjust to the challenges of online learning — and of living with their parents after the independence of campus life.
As McAfee explained, “It’s very different going from having all of the freedom to very little freedom.”
Hamrick echoed the sentiment. “I have a really good relationship with my parents and my family… But I definitely still wish I was living the college life and all that good stuff.”
Gupta, though happy to be at home, has the additional perspective of a college senior. “It’s definitely been tough, especially as a senior, because I was really looking forward to spending the last couple months with some… friends.”
Add to that the impending challenges of entering a decimated job market. Gupta had a postgraduate offer in place, which has since been rescinded.
“There’s gonna be a lot of students that are graduating that may not have the same professional opportunities as they had before,” he explained. “I know a lot of students had internships or summer programs that were either canceled or postponed or moved to remote opportunities.”
Remote learning has been less of a challenge for Gupta, who was already taking half of his classes online. McAfee , though, no doubt like many of her peers, is struggling with the limits of screens versus in-person teaching.
“Motivation is a lot harder. It’s a big adjustment,” she said. “I don’t learn as well online and it’s harder to like get in contact with your teachers and do office hours and stuff like that. There’s just a lot of aspects that can’t fully be worked through.”
Hamrick is facing the same limits and finds that some online classes are just easier than others. “There’s specific classes where I can… attend one Zoom meeting a week and be just fine,” he said. “But then there’s other classes I definitely wish that I was still able to do in-person.”
Each is finding healthy ways to manage the stress that frequently accompanies great uncertainty. All three are working out more and enjoying time outside. Each is committed to maintaining as normal a schedule as possible. And as best they are able, all are working to maintain connections with their friends and have found renewed gratitude for technology.
“It’s really nice to live in the age of technology and being able to call or talk to (a friend) on the phone or shoot him a text message or a Snapchat or something like that. So there’s still definitely ways to stay in touch. It’s just — it’s kind of weird,” Hamrick said.
In a world turned “weird” by a virus for which there are still few effective treatments and no ready vaccine yet, “normal” things can be what people miss most.
What do these three college students miss most about life pre-quarantine?
“Just having the freedom to hang out with people and see them whenever I want,” said Hamrick, “as well as being able to go to places like the movies or shopping.”
McAfee misses being able to enjoy all the Austin has to offer. “I most miss being able to go out and explore. One of the things I started missing a lot in Fayetteville was having a bigger city, ‘cause it’s a pretty small town. So even now that I’m back in Austin, I can’t just go downtown and walk around.”
“I just miss being back at school,” said Gupta, “and having the experience of being a senior at what I think is one of the best universities in the world.”
Still, these three, like so many others, have learned to see the silver lining in what are unprecedented circumstances.
“This is time that I’m definitely not going to take for granted,” said Gupta. “Time that I got to spend with my parents (and) my brother… I’m glad I have this time. It’s unfortunate the circumstances, but it is nice to have this.”
Hamrick is looking ahead with optimism. “The way I see it is, you know, this whole situation really sucks. But in the end, everything’s going to be just fine. So I always remind myself of that.”