December 4, 2020

WANG | My First Semester at Cornell During COVID-19

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Every time I talk to an upperclassman, or basically anyone who isn’t a freshman, one of the first questions I get asked is,“So what’s it like starting your first semester of college during COVID-19?” Honestly, it’s a very fair question. It definitely is a unique experience, to be attending college for the first time while a pandemic is also raging. So I figured, now that I’m back at home for the rest of the semester, I’d answer the question properly, once and for all. 

The short answer is it all felt pretty normal to me. Probably because I’ve never experienced what a normal semester of college is like. So all the extra precautions that came with attending college during COVID-19 seemed like just rules that applied to attending college. So, to me, eating the majority of my meals out of take out containers in a dorm, or having to sit at least six feet away from my classmates in my few in-person classes, or having to leave a lounge because we were afraid of an RA writing us up for having too many people in it, were all just quirks that came with being in college. To me, these were as normal as being told to not leave your dirty dishes in the sink overnight, or to not be too loud after a certain hour.  

However, one of the major differences I have noticed is that I spent a ridiculously large amount of my time in my room. Since three out of five of my classes were completely online, I did most of them in my room. And since most of my classes were concentrated around lunchtime, I ate lunch in my room. And then, sometimes, I would have a club or class around dinner time, so I would also eat dinner in my room. I even did most of my work in my room, because making a reservation at a library seemed like a lot of work and unnecessary planning. Even after I discovered that the Physical Sciences Building and Duffield were excellent places for being productive, I still spent a substantial amount of time working in my dorm. After all, it turns out walking back to North campus from the PSB alone at 2:45 a.m. is slightly terrifying, and you will have to facetime your roommate to keep you company the entire walk. Also, unsurprisingly, it is absolutely freezing at that point in the night. There were multiple days where because I had no in-person classes that day, my roommate and I would spend pretty much the entire day interacting with no one else. We would spend most of the day sitting at our desks, facing away from each other. 

You’d think that all this time spent in my room would make me more excited to go to my in-person classes, a welcome change of scenery. But actually, having the majority of my classes online turned my in-person classes into the aberrations in my schedule that I had to specially trek off North campus for. Since most of my schedule did not involve them, having to go to in-person lectures seemed like extra work for a class that I did not want to do. Most of my in-person classes fell first thing in the morning or late at night, both times when I tend to be extremely tired and grumpy, meaning I did not get to know my classmates as well as I could have. Most of the time, I sprinted in and out of class, eager to return to my surprisingly comfy bed. 

Overall, I definitely feel that it’s harder to connect with people in your classes and clubs. I don’t think I’ve actually made a friend solely through a zoom class. Similarly, while I’ve gotten to know some of the people in my clubs decently well, I definitely feel that there is less value to them, now that clubs have mostly been reduced to seeing a bunch of people’s faces on your screen once a week for an hour or two, during which your attention can easily shift to one of your other open internet tabs, or your econ homework that’s due later that night. 

It’s also fascinating when I hear what college was like pre-COVID. I almost can’t imagine my freshman college experience without all the eating in, doing zoom classes or club interviews while my roommate was napping in the background. And even though I’ve spent most of this article complaining about my first semester in college, I really enjoyed being on campus. After all, I still got the birthday trips to Sumo, the late-night runs to Louie’s and the adventures attempting to navigate the enigma that is the T-CAT schedule. 

Wendy Wang is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ww376@cornell.edu. Common Nonsense runs every other Friday this semester.