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Confessions of a College Freshman on Zoom

After finishing my senior year of high school online (which was brutal to say the least, due to senioritis), I never thought I would be completely remote my first semester of college. I first realized things were going downhill when I was spammed with an influx of emails from Canvas (how do I turn that off??)  

It’s very easy for me to get caught up in the horrible routine of sitting at my computer for nine hours. It begins with the fact that I have to be on my computer for class and also for my homework. It seems like my eyes are constantly taking in blue light. 

Additionally, I never knew what Zoom fatigue was before I got to college, but it is real. Since all of my classes have synchronous components, I’m forced to log into Zoom multiple times a day. Dear people with asynchronous courses, how do you not let procrastination get the best of you? Asking for a friend. 

Something I find interesting is how much harder it is to learn remotely. Not just to complete assignments, but to really learn something new – to take information in, process it, and be able to apply it. 

For me, it’s been difficult because the normal social aspect of learning in a classroom has been removed. Zoom breakout rooms can be extremely helpful when reaching out to peers, but it really isn’t comparable to being with your partner in a chemistry lab, laughing as you realize you forgot to neutralize the acid (in all seriousness, this is a joke, please be safe!). My point is, I’ve realized social interaction is an integral part of learning, especially for the college experience. 

In fact, there is scientific research that proves this is true. In one of my classes, we read the novel Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by social psychologist Claude Steele. While the book focuses mainly on stereotype threat (I highly recommend – it discusses very important ideas), Steele explores a research study that shows when college students study together, they perform better in their classes. This is due to the sense of community that comes with working in a group. Don’t understand something? Ask the person sitting next to you. Someone else is confused? By explaining something to them, you’re also solidifying the concept in your brain. Learning remotely has made group study/work much harder. Finding people to FaceTime/Zoom with to do class assignments is difficult, especially during freshman year when everyone is new to you. 

However, one of the best things I’ve done this semester is reach out to people! Whether it was my fellow students, my TAs, or my professors, I realized that for the most part, people want to help me. If I have a question, if I don’t understand something, if I want to study with someone – I have people to go to. Remote learning is challenging and frustrating, but there are ways to make it better. Since I can’t be on campus, I’ve tried my best to make a smaller, virtual community for myself. 

Another aspect of online learning I’ve found difficult  is that I constantly feel like I’m missing out on the college experience – whether it’s meeting new people, making new friends, going to events, or exploring new places. Many of my friends from my hometown are off at their respective colleges, where they have to obey strict safety precautions; this can be challenging because, as most of us know, not everyone is going to follow strict social-distancing guidelines. Even then, I find myself wishing for something to be normal about my college experience; spending time on a college campus would solidify the feeling that I belong there. Whether it’s through admiring the fall foliage or finding my favorite study spot, it’s disappointing that I don’t get the chance to make my campus feel like a new home. 

I feel trapped between wanting what I had before – senior year with all of my high school friends – and what I want for my future – my college experience. I feel as though COVID-19 has pressed pause on most of our lives, and no one is really sure when we’ll be able to press play again.

As cliché as it sounds, my driving force right now is the hope I have for my future. It’s important to remember that while 2020 has been pretty disappointing, there are better things coming. Instead of focusing on what I’m missing, I’ve found that taking the time to count the things I’m grateful for makes me feel better. The world may feel chaotic now, but one day I’ll look back at this experience and be proud of myself for pushing through it and being able to adapt.

Emily is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. She is passionate about medicine, writing, and women's empowerment. In her free time, she can be found playing tennis or exploring Philadelphia with friends!
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