In March 2020, UC Berkeley freshman Prasuna Lingineni was still a senior in high school. With her thoughts focused on graduation and summer plans, the prospect of having to spend her first year at UC Berkeley online had not settled in, Lingineni said.
One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many facets of the college experience have been transformed. As students continue to grapple with the developing circumstances, they face a changing educational and social landscape.
This is the case for many UC Berkeley students, including campus freshman Lindsey Li. When her school district informed her that spring break 2020 would be extended, her immediate feeling was one of excitement. As the gravity of the pandemic revealed itself, however, that feeling slowly changed, she said.
“Two weeks turned into a month, then it turned into two months, then three months — until graduation didn’t happen, and college was starting online,” Li said. “It was definitely a transition because as a high school student, I felt like I didn’t really get any closure.”
This absence of closure followed her into freshman year, Li added. Spending her first year largely online, Li struggled to adjust to the “new expectations” she encountered while at UC Berkeley, along with helping her younger siblings transition into digital learning at home.
Campus freshman Anna Chau echoed this sentiment. Chau added that online classes have made it difficult for her to reach out to professors and form a connection.
“It was definitely a lot less hand-holding,” Lingineni said. “It was difficult being in a new state and a new school while not seeing people in person, so I wasn’t sure about the resources I could use.”
UC Berkeley alumna Shayna Kothari, who graduated last semester, also experienced a pivotal part of her college experience online. Similar to Li and Lingineni, Kothari believed that the pandemic would only last for a short period of time.
It only became clear to her that fall semester would be online during the summer, Kothari said. As of press time, Kothari has not been on campus for almost an entire year. The general uncertainty of the pandemic had a big impact on her decisions, she added.
“We’ve been living month to month on the information we have on the state of the pandemic,” Kothari said. “Had I known that the pandemic would last this long last March, would I have decided to continue my lease until May? Would I have decided to go back for fall semester? I don’t know if I would have, but it might’ve changed.”
Along with academic worries, social interactions were reduced to online means for many students attending UC Berkeley this year. Though socializing has been rendered difficult by the pandemic, friendships were still formed through Zoom screens and Discord, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform.
Lingineni, who lived in the dorms, said interacting with others had been severely restricted due to COVID-19 guidelines. According to Li, making friends required more effort during the pandemic. She added that Discord has played a vital role in being able to reconnect with old friends and make new friends online. Chau said she gained a close group of peers by speaking to people in breakout rooms.
“Don’t get closed off,” Lingineni said. “Because we’re remote, it’s easy to get closed off, but now more than ever, it’s definitely a good time to reach out to other people.”
According to Kothari, one of the “beauties” of being on campus included running into old friends and grabbing coffee — an experience no longer available to students in an online era.
While spending her senior year at home, Kothari compiled a list of other things she missed about being on campus — some of which include hiking up the fire trails, sitting on top of Cheapskate Hill, eating mozzarella sticks during club meetings and cooking for her friends instead of studying for a final.
“All of these small things alongside the big things,” Kothari said. “They brought me joy.”
For many freshmen, the pandemic has taken a toll on their emotional well-being. The isolated nature of the pandemic has exacerbated the stress of online learning. Combined with academic pressure and restricted socialization, this past year has been one of many struggles.
For the underclassmen living and surviving through this harrowing time, Kothari offered some advice.
“It’s really hard right now — it’s really difficult, but know that there will be a point in time that it’s over,” Kothari said. “At some point of time, these interesting times will subside, and you will be able to hug your friends again.”