Reflections on a Virtual Semester

By Bryce Kelly ‘23

Illustrations by Teodelina Martelli ’23

illustraton of person walking, looking for WiFi signalAs the semester draws to a close, and the upcoming months-long vacation ominously approaches, I have decided to reflect on my life as a Virtual Student Remote schooling is new for nearly all of us, and it is at this moment in time that course evaluations and surveys are being sent out to determine What It’s Like To Be A Remote Learner. And, to be honest, sometimes it feels like a fever dream. No, I don’t have COVID, but between the election, finals, job planning, and packing up my things to move out of my current rental house, the line between fantasy and reality has begun to blur just like my day/night cycle. But I hope I can hold onto just a moment of clarity to give a list of successes (W’s) and shortcomings (L’s) from the student experience during a remote semester at Pomona College.

This list will reflect my experience as a sophomore planning on majoring in International Relations and living in a rented house with other sophomores and juniors. The struggles and ecstasies of this time are diverse, and I can’t possibly hope to account for them all. Without further adooooooooo:

W #1: Virtual jobs

During the opening days of the semester, I was mindlessly scrolling through Handshake (our school’s online job site of choice) when I came across not just one, but several opportunities for paid remote work. I uploaded my résumé, drew up a few cover letters, and sent the applications off without a second thought. About a month passed before I heard back from any employers, but soon I heard back from not just one, but three. The Admissions Office was especially generous in its hiring of students, even taking first years aboard. There were student opportunities with Admissions, the Career Development Office, professors looking for research assistants, professors looking for teaching assistants, Pomona Voices, and more. In my opinion Pomona did a really good job giving students employment opportunities during the remote semester and ensuring the work could still be meaningful. Even beyond Pomona, I was able to apply for internships that take place all across the country because now everything is virtual.

L #1: Relationships

Friendships, dating, and other social connections have undoubtedly suffered during this period. Quarantine has scattered people across the country, with no clear date of reunion. There are no more “acquaintances,” people you have a conversation with every once in a while when you stumble into each other or even just smile at in the hallway. And even in a situation like mine where I am living with other Pomona students, the stress of a pandemic creates conflict where there originally was none. And if whoever you are living with is getting on your nerves, be it a parent, sibling, or housemate, where can you go to be alone? There is no more library to study at, no gym to blow off steam. It is a time when it is very easy to break off relationships, but nearly impossible to begin new ones.

W #2: Networking

illustration of someone elbow bumping someone else through computer screenAlmost in contradiction to the above point, I feel like I’ve built a great professional network during COVID. Probably because people are shut in and looking to have a conversation, I’ve found alumni and friends-of-a-friend very easy to connect with. I’ve used this to my advantage to create a speakers’ series for Pomona College Model United Nations, and I was able to bring in interesting people from across the world to talk to students and teachers about their experiences. Thanks to video conferencing software, I could talk with ambassadors and business owners or bring those conversations to a greater audience.

L #2: Classes longer than an hour

illustration of clock melting while laptop shows zoom sessionIn-person classes had atmosphere. In-person classes had opportunities for dynamic conversations. In-person classes had room for spontaneity. Zoom has none of these. I’m sure everyone is quite familiar with Zoom Fatigue at this point, but I will tell you what I miss about in-person classes: five-minute breaks halfway through the class. If I had a class longer than an hour, the professor, knowing that sitting and listening can be draining even when in person, would hit pause in the middle of the period to give us time to walk around, use our phones, go to the bathroom, and more. You’d think that as things moved online that would be a practice kept in place; however I have yet to hear of a single class that continued this practice. Especially during Zoom classes, teachers can either make time for breaks during class, or the students will do it themselves.

W #3: Flexibility

illustration of person on laptop amidst whirl of objectsAt the end of the day, I could choose where I could take my classes, and even when I wanted to take them. I could live at home, with my parents, and wrap myself in comfort, or I could move to a town In The Middle Of Nowhere with people I met on Facebook. While I did neither of those things, I had the option to. I could roll out of bed five minutes before class, or watch a recording hours later. It was up to you to decide, and as long as you are up for the challenge it was a great practice in independence. Social distancing means being alone, and being alone means freedom.

L #3: Monotony

At the end of the day, I could choose where I could take my classes, and even when I wanted to take them. Because I am lazy, I took them in the same place every day, often only leaving my chair for meals and to work out. I have friends who’ve complained about pain in their necks and wrists from constantly being hunched over and typing, and I feel as though the battery capacity on my laptop has halved from overuse. Virtual school is all the tedious parts of college (assignments, studying, late nights, etc.) and none of the fun parts (community, campus, is it wrong that I miss the dining halls?, etc.). It is a bit of an exaggeration, but there is some truth to it. I could choose wherever I wanted my home to be for the semester, but social distancing meant that I could never really leave it.

I don’t want to end this on a bad note, or even a hopeful one. I’ve seen people break down from the stress of it all. I’ve gotten closer to my friends than I’ve ever been before. I’ve found opportunities that I never would have had access to before. I’ve been robbed of the chance to truly engage with my classes and peers. I’m ready to go home, and I’m ready to stay. For now, I’ll just have to wave into the camera, click “Leave Meeting,” and close my computer.