Helloooo, freshmen! A first-year welcome by Zoom.

No prom. No vacation trip to Tennessee. No graduation. No senior picnic.

After COVID-19 botched her last year of high school, Kiana Kalahele, now a Chapman freshman, was excited for college to be different.

Until she got the word that it wasn’t. Zoom all over again. Senior year: the sequel

Freshman business administration major Kiana Kalahele. Photo courtesy of Kalahele.

“When I got the word that Chapman was starting online, I was really sad. There was still some hope within me that maybe things would turn out differently,” Kalahele said.

Kalahele is not alone. 

The resurgence of coronavirus cases has caused most colleges to abandon or delay their plans for the fall 2020 semester. First-year students all over the nation are grappling with reshaping their college experience.

Chapman President Daniele C. Struppa spent weeks coming up with plans to have students start the fall semester on campus

“We know that there is more to the Chapman Experience than going to classes,” Struppa said in an email addressed to the student body. 

So students heard terms like social distancing classes. Hybrid classes. Masks. Testing. Masks and masks.

But, just a month before Chapman was planning to reopen, California Governor Gavin Newsom ruined those plans. High school and elementary school closing applied to colleges too. Chapman had to adapt quickly by changing everything to an online format.

Including Orientation Week. 

Held a week before classes start, Orientation Week has always been an essential part of the first-year experience. 

The whole week is designed for students to feel comfortable in their environment and to get past the small talk phase of friendships. 

“We had so many different opportunities to meet people,” said sophomore sociology major Joy Joukhadar. “Our schedule was packed with so many events. I can’t even imagine orientation having half of the same effect online!”

Ah yes, the good old days of Orientation Week. Those pre-pandemic years. Remember those?

This year? Yes, there was orientation. It just looked a bit different. A lot different.

First-year students were placed into small virtual groups based on their major. Each group was led by two Orientation Leaders (OLs), older students trained in hosting activities, facilitating discussions, and answering any questions related to the Chapman Experience. 

This year, students were provided with opportunities to log on and interact with peers throughout the week.

However, many OLs like sophomore Braden Koch had concerns.  One was Zoom bombers, or strangers that intrude and disrupt Zoom meetings. 

“Not a lot of groups had to deal with this, but unfortunately, my group did, and it was pretty upsetting and challenging,” Koch said. 

With every activity, Zoom fatigue was another widespread concern.

“Keeping the students engaged and wanting to log on to the events was challenging,” orientation leader and sophomore communications major Natalie Hartman said. “But it was really all about making them feel like they’re a part of Chapman and getting them to bond with each other.”

Despite the pandemic, the new online format didn’t seem to phase first-year students who were eager to interact with their peers. 

“It was really fun and got me super excited for college,” freshman sociology major Mary Hichman said. “I was really nervous before, but our OLs were amazing at helping us ease our nerves.”

Freshman public relations and advertising major Lauryn Johnson agreed.

Unlike in high school, I don’t dread logging into Zoom anymore,” Johnson said.”They would have been more enjoyable in-person, but given the circumstances, Chapman did a great job.”

However, it’s far from a perfect system.

 Zoom fatigue takes on a whole different level for international students like freshman theatre performance major Meridian Harrap. She opted to stay at home in Australia instead of living on campus.

“Orientation was the worst! I was up at crazy hours of the day, and it felt like I was living two days in one,” Harrap said. “I’ve also been struggling with getting involved because of the time difference, and I can’t add too many clubs, or it’ll mess with my sleep schedule.”

Freshman business administration major Marc Khamis moved to Chapman Grand from Lebanon, and, due to social distancing regulations, he has felt lonely.

“Other than my roommate, it’s been hard for me to make friends,” Khamis said. “I haven’t really met many other international students, and it’s been hard to fit in with other students who seem to be friends already.”

While nothing surrounding COVID-19 has been easy, many students expressed the advantages of having school online, such as spending more time with their families and feeling like they’re a part of something much bigger than themselves. 

“Class of 2024, we’ve had such a unique experience,” Harrap said, “It has made us stronger and has united us with a different type of bond.”

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