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A Reflection on the Most Atypical Freshman Year of College Ever

It goes without saying that entering college during a pandemic is not something that many incoming freshmen were anticipating doing. However, time has this weird tendency to fly by. Not even having a second to think about my future plans, I now find myself over five hours away from home, writing this article and trying to think of the best way to unpack the mess that this year has been. It is fair to say that we all have had our fair share of weird experiences this year, and sharing mine with you is my way of accepting what has happened, where I am now, and what will come to me in the future. I also have learned some important lessons along the way that maybe some of you could find useful as well.

A week before fall quarter of freshman move-in, I got the dreaded email that we were no longer going to be allowed to live on campus for the quarter. My mind immediately was sent into a flurry, as I could not fathom being stuck in my small Ohio hometown with my parents for any more months than I had already been (sorry Mom and Dad). In this flurry, I managed to find two random roommates (also incoming Northwestern freshman girls) and a small Airbnb duplex in Rogers Park. We moved in about a week later. To say that this experience was far from normal would be an understatement. We had skipped the intermittent step of dorm-living and gone right to being completely responsible for our own place—doing all of our own cooking, cleaning, and home management on top of being enrolled in university classes for the first time.

Not only was this a period of physical change, but it was also a period of personal change. I found myself quickly morphing out of my cookie-cutter hometown persona and into a young woman who was capable of taking on an entire city. I enjoyed the freedom that came with being five hours away from home but learned some lessons while living in the apartment as well. It took me a while to realize that I needed to start taking better care of myself and respecting myself more. I would not feed my body the way it needed to be fed, I would spend nights out late, and I ended up becoming very sick toward the end of October. Although I was able to protect myself from COVID-19, I was not able to protect my body from the wear and tear that comes with being a college freshman. I also learned the hard lesson of managing roommate relationships for the first time. Mutual respect for each other’s boundaries and preferences is key, and if not established in advance, can lead to detrimental damage to relationships. Going into living with two people you have never met before can be exciting, but it also must be understood that not everyone is compatible living together, and that is okay too.

I ended up putting myself in a very stressful situation toward the end of the quarter, and realized that months away from home and the virus that I was battling were taking their toll on me. I am fortunate enough to have grandparents who live in Florida who were gracious enough to open their home to me for the last two weeks of the quarter to finish my classes remotely from there. Time away from society and sunshine (compared to clouds in Chicago!) was exactly what my mind and body needed to heal–the time spent with my family was a much-appreciated bonus. This small trip acted as a reset button for me to prepare to enter my winter quarter at Northwestern and finally get the opportunity to take on on-campus living.

Freshmen were finally able to move into the dorms at Northwestern during the first full week in January. With bright eyes and arms full of dorm decorations, I quickly settled into my room in Elder Hall. Unfortunately, I was immediately tossed into quarantine due to a positive COVID-19 test. Spending the first two weeks on campus, where everyone was making friends and discovering Evanston, stuck in a quarantine dorm was far from ideal. Also, being on a small campus, rumors tend to spread quickly, which is one thing I did not anticipate coming into Northwestern. I started to get word of people saying that I “paid for a negative COVID test” or that I “was not actually staying in the quarantine dorms” while being completely unable to do anything to stop these rumors from quarantine. It was definitely frustrating to already feel as though my reputation was already out of my control when I had not even had a chance to experience college yet.

These rumors quickly fell by the wayside once I was released from quarantine. I was able to meet my best friends, some of which are fellow Her Campus writers, and we bonded faster than I have ever bonded with friends before. The funny thing about college is that since everyone is new, you quickly find friends and cling to them as though you have been friends for your entire lifetime. We spent all our time together; eating the subpar dining hall meals, hanging out in each other’s dorms, adventuring on the weekends, and studying in the student center. I was, and still am, extremely grateful for these amazing women that I have met. They have all provided a new perspective on life for me, filled me with happiness, and helped shape me into the person I believe I am destined to be.

Winter quarter was by no means easy. Many students here, including myself, suffer from seasonal depression while being stuck in their dorms due to the heaps of snow that pile up outside. Classes were in full swing, and managing social life and school is a hard task while on the quarter system. Classes move at rapid speed, and you never feel as though you are fully on top of your work. Nevertheless, I plowed through my classes, learning what I could and discarding what I deemed unnecessary to make space for new information. I feel bad acting as though my classes as a communication studies major are hard, as many of my STEM major friends suffered through hours of lab and grueling exam schedules.

No matter how taxing classes were during the week, we always made sure to let loose on weekends. Hitting up restaurants in Evanston, taking the L downtown to venture around the city, and walking the streets of Wrigleyville were some of our favorite pastimes. Some of my best memories from this year consist of acting like idiots in public and sharing those moments laughing with my friends made this whole crazy year worth it. The inside jokes piled up and we swapped stories about the weekend at our weekly Sunday brunch in Elder dining hall. Halfway through the year, I decided to start capturing these moments on a disposable camera and stash them all in a photo album, and that is one of the best choices I have made. Looking back on the silly memories from this year make me smile from ear to ear, especially thinking about how lucky I am to have been able to come to campus and meet the people that I did.

Spring break flew past and we returned back to campus for our spring quarter at the very end of March. I had definitely scheduled for myself to take on a lot for my final quarter here as a freshman, trying to juggle a nannying job, internship, and five classes all at once. It was going pretty decently as I lived out my #girlboss aspirations until I got the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As I had COVID in January, my body was not fully prepared to handle the vaccine so soon after being infected, and I was faced with horrible symptoms. I am sure my mom did not enjoy the 9am phone call of me telling her that I fainted in the Sherman CVS Pharmacy and was on my way to the hospital in an ambulance a few days after I was vaccinated. After this incident, I returned home for about 2 weeks and spent a couple of those days at the Cleveland Clinic. Thankfully, I was able to fight off the symptoms and return back to campus to continue my #girlboss lifestyle.

The serotonin that the warm spring weather provides is absolutely unmatched. Days spent hammocking on the lakefill and taking long walks on campus were my favorite days. Although Evanston is extremely windy, spending weekends on the beach was our way of making the best out of being in school a month longer than most other universities. As COVID-19 restrictions ease up, I have been able to spend more time getting involved in person with my student organizations that I am a part of, as well as participating in my internship. I have been able to make even more new friends and even more fun memories.

So now, sitting here writing this and reflecting on this year, I guess I am pretty grateful to have had the experience that I have had. I have experienced my highest highs and my lowest lows, best and worst moments, and overall grew as a person. Let this article serve as a thank you for those who I’ve met who have built me up this year, those who have stuck around to see me grow, and the haters who helped me become stronger. I wish #girlboss energy upon anyone tackling college during the pandemic and beyond, and I feel as though the only proper way to close out this article is by saying “Go ‘Cats”.

Kate Davis

Northwestern '24

Kate is a Freshman at Northwestern University studying Communications and Sociology. Her favorite things to do in her free time are being with her friends, listening to new playlists, making Tik Toks, and online shopping. When she is not writing for HC, you can find her trying out new study spots around campus, hanging out with her Kappa Delta sisters, or practicing her dance skills as a part of NUDM.
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