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So, How Was My First Semester Of In-Person University Classes?

This semester, I was lucky enough to have two in-person classes. Now, because first year was entirely shut down, I hadn’t sat down in an actual classroom in a year and a half — let alone a university class. So, it’s safe to say I was scared.

I know many are still awaiting next semester to learn in person, which can be daunting. So, I decided to put together some of my thoughts, in hopes that others can get prepped for this big transition. I went in not knowing what it would be like to study in person again, since our current situation is so unique. There was nobody to tell me what it would be like to go back to real classes after such a long break. Of course, I know what it’s like now — and as the semester comes to a close, I’m here to share and reflect on my experiences.

So, without further ado, here are some (not course-related!) things I learned from my in-person classes this semester.

It’s very overwhelming at first — the work in each class essentially doubles. 

I’ll be honest with you; it was definitely a major adjustment at first. The beginning of the year was especially hard, because I was constantly overwhelmed with classes, and often felt like my in-person courses took up too much of my time. Particularly because my classes take place at Waterloo’s Interaction Design & Business school in Stratford (don’t ask) and I live in Waterloo, just going to class took a lot longer than I’d hoped. I sometimes felt like I didn’t have enough time in the day — but really, I just had to adjust my schedule and get used to commuting. In all honesty, I also just wasn’t used to working so frequently.

You see, last year, I had a light schedule even with my full course-load — some weeks, I could be done all of my work by Thursday or Friday, and barely had to think about school until Sunday. And however nice this was, being in person taught me that my relaxed schedule last year was not normal. Last year was especially laidback, and to put it frankly, being in university means spending most days attending classes and working into the evening.

Even with the heavier workload, I ended up getting into a groove and it was all okay. I learned to get ahead on my work and buckle down to get as much done as possible, even if that means working into the night. I ended up enjoying going to classes, and learned a whole lot more than I would have if classes were online again — which brings me to my next point.

In terms of learning the material, in-person classes take the cake.

And it’s not even a competition! I learned more from my two in-person classes this year than all of last year’s classes combined. 

I know this doesn’t apply to all in-person classes (I’ve heard stories of my friends sitting in long, boring lectures), but because my classes are mostly interactive and project-based, I was able to learn much more this year. My professors were able to run effective workshops and activities, and I left most classes with more knowledge and hands-on experience.

Also, let me tell you, being in a class environment is so refreshing. Sitting alongside classmates, having in-person discussions, making eye contact with professors; these are things I didn’t know I would miss about in-person classes. And you don’t realize it, but it’s a whole lot easier to retain information when your teacher is right in front of you, as opposed to being able to doze off or get distracted. On Zoom, you can get away with a lot more — which means more chill classes, but it also means not learning as much.

It’s an amazing way to make friends who share your passions.

Online classes have restricted us from a necessity: social interaction. Now that we’re in person, it’s the perfect opportunity to meet new people. Now, I wasn’t expecting to feel such a connection to the people in my program merely because we have the same interests, but I was pleasantly surprised. 

My program, Global Business and Digital Arts (GBDA), is small and tight-knit — this was a bit scary at first. However, the intimidation soon faded and was replaced by a wish to get to know the people around me. My GBDA friends are all interested in different areas of my program, but we all have many common interests and traits. I’ve never been surrounded by so many like-minded people before, and it’s such an exciting and inspiring environment. 

In a lot of ways, I’ve learned that people in your program are some of the best friends you can make, because they really understand you! So, there’s one thing to look forward to — in-person classes are a surefire way to make friends.

Plus, it’s a great way to get to know your professors and make an impression.

I don’t have to tell you that there’s a lot of disconnect online. This makes classes seem more boring and professors seem dull — even if their lectures are interesting, it’s hard to concentrate sometimes. With in-person classes, I got to know each of my professors on a personal basis rather than listening to a recorded video. In general, it’s easier to enjoy a class and learn from someone when you know them personally — and I never really felt like I knew my online teachers.

I’ll admit it: one of the best parts about being online was the ability to “pause” and “play” my professor’s lecture at any point — but it wasn’t until this semester that I realized the importance of actually hearing my professor speak in person. It’s much easier to retain information when the prof is talking right at you, as opposed to through a screen — believe me — and this makes up for the ease of online lectures.

It’s also a lot easier to ask clarifying questions and book a meeting with a professor when your classes are in person. Many times, I’ve asked my professor to review an assignment after class or asked them quick questions as the class drew to a close; this is much simpler than having to book a Zoom meeting or attend online office hours.

All in all, it’s a lot more work, but so much more enjoyable.

If you’re nervous for in-person classes next semester, just remember that it’s how university is meant to be. Being stuck in your room all day, feeling disconnected from your classmates and professor is not normal. Sure, it’s an adjustment, but it’s also a much better environment, both academically and socially.

In my first year, I was unsure about my program; I didn’t enjoy most of my classes, and I didn’t know anyone in my program who could relate. Now, with in-person classes and a growing group of GBDA friends, I’ve really started to love my program and build new connections. Thanks to being in person, I’ve had awesome new experiences, along with additions to my resume that I wouldn’t have otherwise had — the only downside is the heavier workload. And I’m happy to report that this is a trade-off I’d make any day.

Hey! I'm a second-year Global Business & Digital Arts student at the University of Waterloo, a National Writer for Her Campus, and the Senior Editor for HC Waterloo. When I'm not writing, you'll probably find me reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza.
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