Last week, Korey Cohan kept checking his school email over and over, waiting to hear the final verdict from Bentley University.
“It was like waiting for a snow day, but not in a happy way,” said the Marblehead native.
Finally, the ruling was in: Along with nearly every other university in the country, the Waltham campus was closing down for the rest of the semester. Students who lived in dorms had a small window to retrieve their belongings.
“To be carrying my stuff down to my car in March is something I’ve never experienced before, but all your friends are going through the same thing with you,” said Cohan, a sophomore. “This has never happened before, so you have nothing to compare it to. You get your stuff and you go and you hope you can continue your education and not fall behind.”
That won’t be easy for the hundreds of Jewish college students returning home for who knows how long. They will now learn through a mixture of Zoom courses, prerecorded lectures, PowerPoint, and online discussion forums. Though the modified courses are just getting started, college students are not feeling particularly optimistic about their efficacy.
“I don’t think that it’s going to go very well, personally – I think it’s going to be very confusing,” said Carly Sontz of Marblehead, who just returned home from the University of Rhode Island. “Face-to-face communication is always the way to go when you’re trying to get an answer.”
Sontz, who left her spring break in Greece just in the nick of time, is concerned professors will be overwhelmed with the requests of confused students.
Others are concerned that not every student can handle courses online. “I’m not super excited – I’m not a big fan of online classes because I don’t feel like you get the same out of it,” said Elana Zabar, a junior at the University of New Hampshire who just returned home to Swampscott for the rest of the semester. “Also, I know so many students struggle with accessibility challenges that they can’t even take online classes. I have a hearing impairment. Especially if it’s a recorded lecture, I can’t just pause and say, ‘Can you repeat that louder?’”
“If you’re not an auditory learner, you’re at a disadvantage,” said Daniel Jacobson of Newton, who just left American University in Washington, D.C., and also pointed out the difficulty of scheduling classes now that students are dispersed throughout different time zones. “There’s just no substitution for in-person interaction.”
As their universities figure out how to provide the best possible educational experience in challenging circumstances, students are left doing “a whole lot of nothing,” as UMass-Amherst sophomore Ethan Friedman of Swampscott put it. “I get up, I watch TV, I run on the treadmill, I take my dogs for a walk – it’s not really much,” he said, noting that online classes wouldn’t start until the following week. Zabar reported experiencing cabin fever while she gets more and more afraid to go outside, but that she’s kept herself occupied.
“I’ve been more productive than I expected I would be – I cleaned my room, and I brought home most of my clothes, because I thought even if I’m coming back, most of the clothes I have at school are my winter clothes, and I’ll come back in April, when it won’t be so wintry outside,” she said. “I’ve done some laundry – just finishing up some odds and ends and little projects that I had left myself.”
Even with plenty of ways to communicate electronically, students report missing their friends and the general social atmosphere of college. “Not having that basic network of people that you interact with is contributing to your insanity – I very much have a network of people I’m used to,” said Jacobson.
“For my generation and the younger generation, I think it’s so easy to be in contact – you’re snapchatting and messaging and posting – that you don’t feel isolated in that sense,” said Cohan. “As much as college is stressful and people say in the short term my workload is easier, and I like to be in my home and not sleep in a tiny college-size bed, I think that that phase will pass.”
Most college students say it’s been nice to reconnect with family, but it has a sell-by date. “I think there’s positives to it – the older you get when you go to school and graduate school, people are so busy forwarding their careers that you lose day-to-day touch, so there’s a nice aspect to be reunited with you family,” said Cohan, who is now sharing a house with his parents, Susan and Eric, and his older brother, Jesse. “But I think if any more than a week goes by of constant interaction, I think it could get in a comical way quite irritable. People like to feel like they’re moving forward.”
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment, but it’s not so bad – I like being at home,” said Sontz. “But don’t get me wrong – I love being at school.”