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‘You can only connect with someone so much over Zoom’: what an entirely virtual college life looks like

<p>Cameron Tiefenthaler has strived to make the best out of her first year at college despite being fully remote. </p>

Cameron Tiefenthaler has strived to make the best out of her first year at college despite being fully remote.

Imagine every aspect of your college experience thus far taking place within a screen. For upperclassmen, this is an especially hard concept to think about, but for some first-year students, like Cameron Tiefenthaler, that is reality. 

Cameron, a double major in political science and human capital management, decided last fall semester that pandemic residence hall life wasn’t for her, considering all the freedoms she had at home.

“It was a hard decision,” Cameron said. “I’d rather have the flexibility to go downstairs and make a pan of brownies, go play with my dog and take a walk outside and not have to wear a mask.”

Cameron is one of 662 first-time Oxford students to attend college in a completely virtual setting, a challenge completely unique to their class. 

She is also one of 506 first-time Oxford students to choose a remote option for this spring semester.

Cameron’s parents, Heather and Jeff, said the decision for their daughter to stay home just made sense for their family at the time. 

Their son, a sophomore at Indiana University, is also a fully remote college student this year.

“We looked at the big-picture things,” Heather said. “Like how would they reunite at Thanksgiving break, how would they come home for Christmas, would they have to test first, would we [get tested], would we isolate each other for a couple weeks…”

Jeff said the decision was a little selfish on their part, but they weren’t ready to kick the kids out. 

“The discussion was, all their classes were online, so if they’re going to be online, what was the point of going there?” Jeff said. 

Cameron said things would be a lot different for her this year if she wasn’t as extroverted, noting her involvement in Associated Student Government, Amicus Curiae, the Scholars Program and College Democrats. Cameron also participated in virtual rush for sororities. 

“I’m really trying to meet people and make connections, so that when I go to campus in the fall, [I don’t feel] like I’m a transfer student,” Cameron said. “That’s like my greatest fear at this point.”

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As a fully remote first-year, the responsibility of getting involved relies heavily on the student joining student organization video calls. Cameron said one of the benefits of being remote is the flexibility of her schedule. 

“If I’m home and I can have a meeting at seven and eight, I might as well,” Cameron said. “So ultimately, if I were to go make the decision again for the circumstances, I would totally do the same thing because I can pretty much do whatever I want here.”

Cameron’s parents said they try to stay out of their kids' way during the day, as Jeff is retired and Heather is currently not working. 

“We are terribly flexible and we find ourselves as basically kitchen staff,” Heather said. “We make sure they have three meals a day, and the food’s pretty darn good.”

Heather said their kids put their class schedule on the doors of their rooms so the parents know when not to interrupt, though they admitted they don’t always abide. 

“We do have boundaries, but they should be able to just do their homework and get fed and know they’re loved,” Heather said. 

Cameron said she feels as though she has missed out on some smaller aspects of a college social life and has overcompensated for that lack with extracurriculars.

“You can only connect with someone so much over Zoom,” Cameron said. “There’s a physical connection that’s missing, but hopefully, if I start all these interactions online or through Instagram, it will be easier to continue that in person later on.”

Cameron’s parents shared the same worry.

“I do worry there will be groups that will collect at school,” Heather said. “Although she’s done a great job with establishing friendships and trying to nurture friendships, I do think she could be behind the eight ball when she gets on campus next year.”

No one knows what 2021’s fall semester will look like, but Cameron is excited, albeit nervous, to come to campus.

“[Coming to campus] will hopefully be better,” Cameron said. “It’s going to be like a new year, a new, fresh page. I am still worried about that transition, but I’m hopeful that I won’t feel like [I] dropped in from nowhere.”

Despite the concerns, Cameron is confident that the fall semester will look different for her. 

“I am dedicated to being sure I have the best [first-year] experience I can,” Cameron said. “I will get to experience college life when it’s safe to do so.”