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'It's like doing the bare minimum to stay afloat': Students reflect on unusual fall semester

<p>With classes online, student organizations have found new ways to stay connected. </p>

With classes online, student organizations have found new ways to stay connected.

At the beginning of this semester, not many people knew what to expect. Students had come a long way from March — when many thought the coronavirus had simply just created an extended spring break — but then found themselves facing an almost entirely virtual semester. 

Now at the end of an (yes here comes that word) unprecedented semester of college, students are looking back at their unusual experience and ahead to another semester full of uncertainty in the spring.

Heather Yenchesky, a sophomore psychology and pre-med major, came into this semester thinking it was going to be awful.

“This semester has been better than I expected,” Yenchesky said. “I just wasn’t expecting it to be so hard.”

Yenchesky said she was happy to be able to come back to Oxford but feels like there’s been no break since the semester started. 

“I don’t think I realized how burnt out I was going to feel at this point in the semester,” Yenchesky said. “I feel like we haven’t had any days to relax, and I feel like it’s just been going and going. It makes the end of the semester really hard.”

Theo Mesnick, a senior creative writing and history major with minors in French and art history, said it’s been a really bad semester for them.

“Having to stay at home has just had a huge toll on my mental health,” Mesnick said. “It’s hard to stay motivated and hard to focus with [roommates] around, so I just spend a lot of time locked in my room doing homework, which sucks.”

Mesnick said the semester has also been rough because they haven’t seen their boyfriend in three months because of the coronavirus. Going to the gym and rock climbing have been a bit of a rescue for their mental health this semester.

“It’s kind of a small thing, but I’m pretty proud of my progress on rock climbing,” Mesnick said. “I’ve been making a lot of progress.”

Mesnick said there have been happy moments despite everything else and recognizes the semester has been tough for many other people as well. 

“This time is hard for everyone, which sucks that everyone’s having a hard time, but at least we’re all in it together,” Mesnick said. 

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Camryn Megley, a junior math major, said she struggles severely with ADHD and that this semester’s online learning environment has not been ideal. 

“I’m much more of a face-to-face person,” Megley said. “It’s much easier for me to work when I have structure.”

Megley said her biggest challenge was staying organized this semester. 

“I’m bad at communicating online,” Megley said. “If I’m in person, I can have a relationship with my teachers, but this semester, when I do feel like I’m getting overwhelmed and falling behind, I’m not as good at reaching out for help.”

Megley said there are some days when she is able to be productive and then others when she is exhausted and can’t focus. 

“I feel like this semester has been rough in terms of having to teach yourself everything,” Megeley said. “I think for a lot of people, instead of really learning, it’s like doing the bare minimum to stay afloat.”

Megeley also noted that for students with mental health issues, she thinks it’s been easy to get into a mental rut this semester. 

“I think that’s what really is the lowest point of the semester is that it’s just not circumstances where I’m really learning or feel engaged with [coursework],” Megley said. “I want to be excited about what I’m learning about.”

Looking ahead, Megley is optimistic about the spring semester. 

“Realizing what worked for me this semester and what hasn’t worked for me, I’m pretty optimistic that I can create more of a routine for [myself] next semester,” Megeley said.

Mesnick said they are looking forward to the upcoming break, but they are not super optimistic about the spring semester.

“I’m dreading [that there’s going to be] another wave [of coronavirus] over the winter and then it probably won’t be super safe to go back in person,” Mesnick said. “It’s my last semester, I love going to class, I get a lot of energy from being in a group discussion and I always leave feeling really happy, so to have that taken away from me is really painful.”

Yenchesky said she hopes the state will be more open in the spring than it is now.

“[I hope] a vaccine will come around very soon, that’s the goal, but you never really know,” Yenchesy said. “I was hoping this semester would be pretty normal, and I think it’s been anything but that.”