“My freshman year is definitely not a normal one,” said Valley Stream resident Munahil Sultana. This fall she began her first semester at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “I’m hoping by the next academic year we can go back to normal.”
She and other students from Valley Stream described a college experience transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. Many, like Sultana, said they are adjusting to the new normal, and recounted the difficulties along the way.
“It’s been difficult because I don’t have much of the freshmen college experience,” said Sultana, 18, a government and international studies major. “Many students have avoided partying because they’re afraid of getting sent home.”
She described herself as a social butterfly, and said that despite restrictions, she has made a number of new friends while living in the campus dorms. The hardest part, however, has been the inability to gather in large groups with those new friends. During meals, she explained, only two people can sit at a cafeteria table, to meet social-distancing requirements.
“Large-group gatherings on campus are continuously discouraged,” she said. “University police are frequently monitoring all over the campus.”
All of Sultana’s classes have been in person so far. While in class, students are required to wear masks and sit at least six feet apart. For every person seated at a desk, six chairs are blocked off in between them. Additionally, students on Sultana’s campus are administered rapid Covid-19 tests every other week to monitor outbreaks. The school has also eliminated roommates, so all students living on campus have their own rooms.
“I’ve had about six Covid-19 tests since the start of the semester,” she said, but added she does appreciate the space and solitude of having a dorm room to herself. “For me, the precautions and the campus faculty have made it easier to learn, and I can tell the school has done everything they can,” she said.
Abigail Arjune, 19, a sophomore studying psychology at St. John’s University in Queens, said this year has been unusually stressful. Arjune, who has severe asthma, chose to attend all her classes virtually. She said she decided that going to class could put her in danger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with moderate to severe asthma might be at risk for a severe case of Covid-19, the disease brought on by the coronavirus.
“The workload is similar to last year, but the problem with being all-virtual is the inability to contact teachers all the time,” Arjune said. “Instead of being able to have contact with teachers in person, everyone in my classes is contacting the teachers virtually all at once, and it takes a lot longer to get a response from a professor.”
Last year, Arjune commuted to school for in-person classes. With fully virtual classes this semester, she said college life has been harder for her without regular human interaction. She has also found it difficult to focus on her studies while at home for most of each day. Despite these difficulties, Arjune said she is trying to stay positive.
“The fact that I can’t physically see people is kind of depressing, but I’m getting used to this . . . and I can’t do anything to change what’s happening,” she said. “There are positives that come out of this time — I’m getting more time with my family at home, more time to reflect on my own, and I no longer have to waste time and gas waiting in traffic like I used to when I commuted to school.”
Before the pandemic struck in March, Anthony Cruz took the Long Island Rail Road daily to New York University, where he majors in education. Now, a sophomore, he is enrolled in remote classes only. As chief of staff of the NYU Student Government Assembly, Cruz said he is required to be on campus once a week for SGA meetings, and is required to receive a rapid Covid-19 test every other week.
“It was a difficult transition at first because I was used to waking up before 6 a.m. to take the train to the city when I used to commute to campus, so getting used to not moving around a lot was different,” he said. “I always used to spend 45 minutes at a time talking to professors in person, and now communicating with professors in only virtual ways is a lot harder, and I miss personal interaction. It’s a different dynamic being in the virtual setting.”
Valley Streamer Frank Giugliano, 20, who is in his junior year studying business marketing at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, said that taking classes fully online this semester has been difficult.
“Nobody that I know prefers fully online classes because they don’t think they’re getting the full experience,” he said. “The hardest part between home life, work and online classes has been getting into a routine . . . It feels like there’s no separation because everything is happening from home.”
Despite feeling that he’s missing out, Giugliano said he would continue to put in the effort, even from a distance.
“If I wanted to, I could just turn off my camera and microphone and go to sleep during virtual classes,” he said, “but I know that it’s easy to lose focus, so I’m making sure that I stay on top of everything.”