What It’s Like to Start College in the COVID-19 Era

We’re still on campus and it's starting to get cold. I guess I’ll need to buy a winter coat.

By: AJ Henley ’24, as told to Meghan Kita  Friday, November 13, 2020 08:55 AM

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AJ Henley ’24. Photo by Marco Calderon

I’m from Georgia, and I hadn’t heard of Muhlenberg—I found it when I was looking up the best college theatre programs. I went to the website and just felt really drawn to Muhlenberg. As soon as I got my acceptance, I was pretty much like, “This is where I’m going.”

I thought I was being smart by planning to visit only the schools I was accepted to. Right before acceptances went out, the whole COVID thing started, and I actually never got to visit Muhlenberg. The first time I was on campus was in August, to start the semester.

In one way, COVID helped with making friends because none of us knew about Zoom before the pandemic. Once we were accepted and talking in our Facebook groups, some of us decided to have big Zooms to get to know everybody early. I ended up making a group of friends. There are about nine of us, and we’ve been really close since March.

When the semester started, we’d go to breakfast, lunch and dinner together. None of us had really seen anyone for six months. We were like, “People! We’re seeing physical people, in real life!” That’s worn off a bit. We’ll normally all get together for dinner—we’ll grab our food and go outside or down to the Red Doors. Sometimes they’ll go to the library and study together, but I’m a person who needs to study in my room. I spend a lot of time there, reading and trying to get caught up. It can be isolating.

Even though I have this friend group, I haven’t really seen any of them in person without masks. When we’re hanging out, we have to be very conscious of how we’re hanging out—you have to be outdoors or very far apart indoors. We don’t sit right next to each other or hug each other or anything like that. It makes it harder to make connections.

I have one fully in-person class, one hybrid class and three online classes. I definitely prefer learning in person. I find it’s very hard to stay focused and engaged in the online classes. And when the professor asks a question and no one wants to talk, it’s so awkward. At least in an in-person class, you’re really only looking at the professor, but on Zoom, you’re looking directly at every single person’s face and all of us are just looking at each other, not saying anything. I’m excited for whenever all classes can be held in person again.

My only real COVID fear was that we were all going to come here and we were going to be idiots and it would spread through us like wildfire. I’ve actually been pleasantly surprised that a lot of us have the same views on this, that it’s important that we social-distance because if we want to stay here, we need to make sure that we don’t have an outbreak.

Something I’ve heard from a lot of my friends is that we didn’t pack enough warm clothes. We thought, “We’re going to be here for two weeks and then they’re going to send us home.” Even my family, when I left, they were all making jokes: “I’ll see you in two weeks!” I’ve lived in Georgia my whole life, and down there, we wear coats for a little bit of warmth, but mostly for fashion. I’ve had to text all my friends that I’ve met up here like, “Hey, can y’all ask your parents where I should buy a winter coat from?”