First-year students reflect on their college experience during a global pandemic

Social distancing has become the norm around WKU’s campus, with lines, computer labs and classrooms being restructured to allow for space between people. Students in finance professor Mohsen Mollagholamali’s classes have been seated six feet apart from each other all semester, as WKU and the United States continues the fight against COVID-19.

Liza Rash

Making the adjustment from high school to college is difficult, but a global pandemic has only only made things even more complicated for first-year students.

This year’s freshmen at WKU have felt particularly stripped of a true first-year experience due to COVID-19.

With cut backs on in-person classes, social gatherings and campus events, many first year students are feeling like they’ve had a much harder time taking on college classes and becoming acclimated to a new campus.

Braxton Bell, a theatre and public relations double major, has been struggling with the transition to college in more ways than one due to the coronavirus.

Bell is originally from Bowling Green, and he emphasized that his proximity to Western had a positive impact on his first semester because he already knew a few students and the Bowling Green area.

Bell’s issues with starting college during the pandemic mostly stem from his frustration with online classes.

Bell said that the hardest part of starting college in the midst of a global health crisis has been maintaining focus in his classes that are mostly online.

“I was never really good in school in general,” Bell said. “So, since most of my classes are online, it’s so easy for me to not pay attention or do anything else.”

Bell said he’s the kind of student who learns through physicality. He said that because of his learning style, virtual school does not help him “pick up” what he’s “supposed to be learning about.”

In terms of his overall college experience so far, Bell had some conflicting feelings regarding this semester.

“I do think I’m still getting the college experience in some ways, but in other ways, I really do not,” Bell said.

Bell added that despite the pandemic, he has actually made a lot of good friends, and they are what’s helping him feel that he is getting somewhat of a normal college experience.

However, COVID-19 has impacted how he interacts with WKU’s campus as a whole. He said that the few campus events that WKU are offering just don’t excite him.

“Besides them (his friend group), I don’t really do much on campus,” Bell said. “There’s not really much that Western can do, and anything they could just doesn’t sound like it would be a lot of fun because it would have to be virtual, or spread apart, with all of us wearing masks.”

Bell spoke on how isolation has affected his connections with his peers.

“Right now, it’s really easy to be alone,” Bell said. “Having a connection with people, when it clicks, it just feels even better because it’s just hard to really connect with new people right now.”

Despite his positive experience with friendships this semester, Bell acknowledged that without COVID-19, he feels there is more that he could be experiencing in terms of extracurriculars and socialization with his classmates.

“I feel that a lot of extracurricular things I could have been doing have been taken away, but I understand they (WKU) have to do it,” Bell said. “It’s not their fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.”

Bell said that he is very excited for when campus returns to normal. He said he feels that he’ll have a lot more friends and more fun.

“I miss talking to a lot of people that have things in common with me, like people in my classes,” Bell said. “We really don’t talk that much because it’s all virtual, so I feel like I’ll really enjoy that once this is over.”

Bell added that this semester, though difficult, has taught him a lot about time management in college. He said that now that schooling is all virtual, he must pressure himself to do his work even more and set aside specific times each day to get something done.

Bell described everything that went on this semester as a “rollercoaster of emotions.”

Erin Hupy, a psychology major and dance minor, said she also feels that the hardest part of starting college in a global pandemic has been adjusting to her online classes.

“I have severe ADHD,” Hupy said. “Doing online coursework is so hard for me because there are just so many distractions on the internet to begin with.”

Hupy added that juggling various online assignments, like discussion boards, has been a big part of her struggle. She said “assignments like these” would usually just be done face-to-face in class, but now that they have to be done online, she’s having a hard time managing her coursework.

At the beginning of September, Hupy was exposed to COVID-19 through her roommate and was placed in a quarantine dorm. She said that it was really hard at first, especially because “the food was pretty sucky.”

Quarantine didn’t stop Hupy from doing what she said she always does: searching for the positives. She said she tried to make the best of her unfortunate circumstances by spending time with her friends who were also placed in quarantine.

“All we did was watch movies the whole two weeks,” Hupy said. “It was a really fun time.”

Hupy is a member of Sigma Kappa at WKU. She said that it’s been hard missing out on a lot of the events that her sorority would hold if COVID-19 weren’t happening, like a normal, in-person recruitment process.

“A lot of colleges would normally have so much going on right now, like mixers and big social gatherings,” Hupy said. “It’s definitely kind of a bummer that if you are doing those kinds of things, it’s over Zoom, and you aren’t going to have the same interaction with someone over Zoom as you would in person.”

Hupy is from Burlington, Wisconsin. She said this has made going home this semester impossible.

“I didn’t go back home because I would have to fly,” Hupy said. “I didn’t want to expose myself to a bunch of people in an airport, so I had to decide not to go home at all.”

Hupy also said she wishes she had gotten to know more people outside of her building, but she understands that this isn’t an option right now. She said that her lack of in-person classes has only added to this issue.

“I think trying to have more in person classes for freshmen would really help us get more acclimated,” Hupy said.

Hupy said an important part of college for her has been making friends since she “didn’t have a lot of friends in high school.” COVID-19 has not made this any easier for her.

“I thankfully do have a fair amount of friends here,” Hupy said. “But I do think it was a lot harder during a global pandemic to make those friends and find that support system.”

Hupy said she’s looking forward to branching out socially next semester and exploring Bowling Green.

She said she feels that even though COVID-19 could cause issues in this regard, she’s hopeful that she can still become more familiar with her surroundings and meet new people.

“It could definitely be worse,” Hupy said. “Maybe I have that attitude because I’m just an overly positive person.”

Although things can be difficult, Hupy is glad she’s at WKU this year.

“There are times when you do wish you had taken the year off because we have missed out on some things,” Hupy said. “But at the same time, the world can’t be ‘on pause’ because of the pandemic. You can’t live in a bubble.”

Features reporter Liza Rash can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Liza on social media at @l1za_.