Don’t take an in-person freshman year for granted 

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Here we go again.  

The beginning of the fall semester holds a special place in the hearts of most students at the University of Connecticut. The awkward chorus of families lugging heavy boxes through the dorms, the thrill of seeing the faces of old friends and meeting new ones and the anticipation of the start of classes weighing on you like a cartoon anvil all bring that powerful sense of transition right in front of your face — and there’s no group that feels this stronger than incoming freshmen.  

UConn’s greenest generation of students comes at an interesting time in the history of not just our school, but universities around the world. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic’s fundamental yet necessary changes to college life — with measures limiting classes to an online capacity, restricting guests in residence halls and barring large public gatherings — nearly erased the prospect of an idyllic freshman year for thousands.  

Although public health precautions prevented a devastating pandemic from becoming far worse, students who entered UConn during the first peak of the COVID-19 crisis, namely incoming juniors, have a sort of mourning sensation over the college fantasies which never came to fruition during this difficult period. That’s why, for those students who are just joining us, we want to put our melancholic reflections on what we missed to good use. From the life-changing weekends to the most minute moments, here’s what not to take for granted during your first year of college.  

The aspects of college that leave the strongest impression are often disconnected from your classes entirely. As cliché as it sounds, clubs and other extracurriculars are a critical way to engage with your community members and determine what is meaningful to you outside of academics. And although the ongoing pandemic has opened up new routes for accessing club meetings and events through video conferencing, you likely won’t have to suffer through the buffering, the entire meetings full of faceless, voiceless panels and the joyless obligation that is attending a WebEx call nearly as much. Accessing on campus events for groups you care about, whether it be a warm and cathartic poetry slam by Poetic Release or an electrifying protest by one of many student activist groups, will be a defining element of your first year in person. 

At UConn, there are few institutions more polarizing than the dining halls. Some with particular tastes swear against them, while others view them as a safe and nourishing haven away from the academic warzone. Either way, the tireless work of UConn Dining staff creates a space for us to both avoid starvation and create our own social rituals. The most heated game of cards I’ve ever seen was hashed out within the traditional walls of South dining hall, not to mention the countless academic crises mitigated by excessive caffeine and a possible UConn Spiderman cameo. 

A sense of place is largely important to one’s identity, thus connection to campus brings the “college student” identity full circle. Make no mistake: You might have the rest of your life to discover and appreciate the geography of Storrs – there’s a reason alumni keep having weddings here – but there’s nothing quite like trying, failing, then persevering to find the most efficient route to your classes, seeing new flora and fauna pop up to the rhythm of your best back-to-school playlist. 

Sometimes, you don’t grasp how much of a shut-in you are until it’s time to pipe up in a dead silent Zoom call. Meeting people in person — from a self-described introvert, I didn’t think social distancing would affect me. Come to find out, having friends and seeing them regularly is simply good for the soul. Even just living with a roommate brings a sense of closeness I was missing before. UConn’s social life – the heart and soul which can make this otherwise strange and cow-filled place a home away from home – is rarely farther than half a mile out of your reach. From the closest friendships you cultivate down to the most brief, quotidian interactions with strangers, seeing other human beings in person is a luxury that surely none of us thought we’d come to treasure.  

As with many things in life, college is what you make of it. And given that this will hopefully be our most “normal” looking year in a while, you’ll likely have abundant opportunities in recent years at your disposal to make the most of your college life. Take advantage of that! Get involved, meet new people and put yourself out there. Sure, it’s terrifying to be new, especially on a campus of thousands; but it’s even scarier to have new prospects, or aspects of everyday life in general, taken away from you by grand-scale forces – i.e., a pandemic. Be thankful about how far we’ve come and the parts of the “normal” college experience we’re now able to bring back. Do what you can with what you’ve been given and you’ll have four years to look back on fondly.  

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