DePaul freshmen start virtual first year

Most American teenagers grow up imagining what their college years will look like. Whether it’s visions of wild parties complete with toga-wearing fraternity brothers, as seen in American media, or nights spent cramming in the library for exams, each prospective student has big expectations for their freshman year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stomped out many college kids’ first year expectations.

“I always expected my freshman year to be like what I saw in the movies,” said DePaul freshman psychology major Megan Stoutenborough. “[I imagined] hanging out with friends and having a lot of freedom, but as soon as corona hit, I knew that that wasn’t going to happen.”

Nearly six months ago, educational institutions across the United States began ushering students out of physical classrooms and into online ones. For the high school seniors of 2020, normal life came to a standstill during the months of March and April. The standstill morphed into a swift shutdown of rites of passage such as prom, senior sports nights, and walking at graduation. 

“We were told in March that we should expect to be back in class in a few weeks,” said DePaul freshman Gabby Milton. Milton, an 18-year-old biochemistry student from the Chicago suburb of Justice, Ill., is attending classes remotely and not living on the DePaul campus. “[The end of] my senior year was disappointing because I couldn’t spend the last moments of high school with my friends, but I know it was for the sake of being safe,” she said.

For some incoming freshmen however, the pandemic has provided more opportunities to work on creative endeavors. “I didn’t mind my [high school] classes being online. I was very productive over quarantine,” said Dwight Bellisimo, a DePaul freshman in The Theatre School who moved to Chicago from Mill Valley, Calif. “I did miss going out with friends and being social, but I also did enjoy the time I had at home.” Bellisimo spent much of his free time during quarantine writing a play with a friend.

For other incoming DePaul freshmen like Stoutenborough, the past summer was full of stress and confusion. Stoutenborough described her summer as “Not what I would’ve wanted, but not exactly the worst.” 

Upon receiving unclear emails from the DePaul administration about back-to-school protocols this summer, Stoutenborough was apprehensive about the upcoming school year. “DePaul just kept sending us a bunch of contradicting emails,” she said. “They just kept going back and forth on if [classes] would be in person or not. I just didn’t really know what was happening.” 

Even before the pandemic struck, Bellisimo was already expecting the transition into college to be a significant lifestyle change. He moved into an apartment with a friend from his hometown and only socializes with a small group of other Mill Valley folks. “I haven’t met more than three or four new people, and I’m planning on keeping it like that for a while,” Bellisimo said. “I don’t really feel like hanging out with a bunch of new people right now.” 

Although Bellisimo is not unhappy with limiting his in-person interactions to those in his existing group, he also finds certain aspects of a remote first year frustrating. Primarily, he is concerned with connecting with his professors and peers.

“I don’t like having to introduce myself to my classmates and professors online,” he said. “I feel like a first impression sticks more if you get to meet someone in person.” 

There are ways that the freshmen have been making friends remotely, however. Stoutenborough, who is living in an apartment near campus, is trying to make new friends at DePaul through social media. 

“I will go through the class list and look people up on Instagram and direct message them if they seem nice,” Stoutenborough said. “Luckily, I live with my close friends. Making new friends has been super difficult, because no one in class really talks to each other.” 

To Milton, the social aspect of her first year has been nerve-wracking. The act of fostering connections through Zoom classes and social media has been particularly difficult. However, Milton has made friends with fellow chemistry students, and hopes to see them in person one day. Additionally, she wants to found a club dedicated to exploring cultural cuisine around the city once going out in groups is safer.

“It is definitely going to be a long process, but I’m excited to finally meet some of my friends in person,” Milton said.