Adjusting to the New Normal

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Penn State’s campus has not looked “normal” since March 2020 when students were sent home for spring break, unaware of what was to come. From quarantining at home with our families to attending our classes virtually through Zoom, it’s been quite some time since we have experienced a typical school year. But with the return of (mostly) in-person classes and football games with people in the stands, Penn State’s campus and downtown State College is bustling as students walk to class and reunite in person. 

Every student seems to have a unique pandemic experience, from sophomores who are struggling to navigate campus because of virtual learning in 2020 and half of 2021, to seniors who are grateful that football is back. While masks are still required, it feels like school hasn’t been this “normal” for almost two years. 

Eve Francisco, a junior majoring in elementary education, was a freshman when COVID-19 hit.

“It sucked, not gonna lie. However, I do feel grateful to have gotten at least one normal semester as a freshman,” says Francisco.

Francisco was one of the students who decided to stay home all together last year since her classes were virtual. She commented that while staying home was great for her GPA, it was not great for her mental health. She frequently went on jogs just to get out of her house and be on her own.

“Despite all of this, I think staying home was needed,” says Francisco. “My grandmother passed away in October of last year, and I needed to be home with my mom and family.”

Francisco commented that seeing so many people on campus again this year gives her a bit of anxiety, but it’s something she is getting used to. However, since she was on campus for half of her freshman year, she hasn’t had any trouble finding her way around. Yet, for some students, that’s not the case.

Zixin Wang is a senior studying public relations. Despite being an upperclassman, this is her first time on campus.

Wang participated in the 2+2 program, which she really enjoyed. She spent her first two years of college at Penn State Abington, and although the campus was small, she still had fun and traveled to Philadelphia and NYC since they were close by.

But Wang spent most of last year at home in China. 

It [virtual learning] was not good. I would have to get up at midnight for class because of the time difference. My biological clock was out of whack, and I constantly felt tired, Wang explains.

Even though she is a senior, this is Wang’s first time going to in-person classes at University Park. Her biggest challenge, she says, is familiarizing herself with the big campus while balancing tons of homework.

Like Wang, other students are navigating campus for the first time. For Gabriella Achampong, COVID-19 hit during her senior year of high school. Achampong, now a Penn State sophomore majoring in secondary English education, preferred zoom classes to in-person. 

 She explains that while the level of discipline that comes with virtual classes was difficult at first, she got used to it and was able to work really well under those conditions. After graduating high school in the midst of the pandemic, she made the decision to stay home her freshman year at Penn State.

After six months of COVID-19, I was most comfortable continuing to learn in my own space without added risks, and I enjoyed it because, by that time, I had learned to work well on Zoom, says Achampong.

This year, she says, has been more different than anything she has done academically, including her pre-COVID high school experience and her first year of college. Not being on her own time has been challenging. On Zoom, students can re-watch recorded classes and study in their own space.

“It’s very different and difficult to wake up and think about the dining hall hours, walk to and from classes, have clubs to attend and find the time and space to study,” Achampong explains.

Although it’s not her first year of college, just like Wang, it feels like it is.

Despite these challenges, Achampong says she is really enjoying being able to see people, make friends and study together.

A lesson she has learned throughout all of this is the importance of advice from others.

“The helpfulness of advisors, the warmth of the College of Education’s Office of Education and Social Equity and my new friends’ advice on certain things have truly helped me a lot,” Achampong says.

While this school year brings its own set of unique challenges to each student, we all can still agree that being together again and supporting each other makes everything better. Whether you’re a first-year student or graduating in the spring, make the most of this year and everything it has to offer.


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