When it comes to a lot of elements in life, I find that people often gravitate towards impulse rather than reality. We’ll eat unhealthier foods because they taste better, put off chores to do something fun or perhaps buy an overpriced ticket to a concert or theme park. Regardless of the value of the task, it’s safe to say that people make decisions based on how it makes them feel more than anything else. In other words, we only have one life to live, so it’s all about the experience. 

The same could definitely be said for the college student. While the decision on whether or not to go to a college rests on factors such as functionality and finances, the decision to stay at a college oftentimes rests on the experience — have I enjoyed the atmosphere that this university has had to offer me? 

This applies to pretty much everything; the people, the food, and most pertinently, the academic and extracurricular experience being offered. A student’s day-to-day experience is critical to their overall enjoyment of not just the school itself, but their overall perception of college education as a whole. 

And how could it not be? With college marking such a swift and drastic transition from life at home to on-campus responsibilities and self-discovery, it is vital that an institution of higher education gets this right. 

Unfortunately, this past educational year was conducted under, as everyone has heard time and time again, unprecedented times. In those unprecedented times, many sacrifices had to be made.  The social distancing guidelines, reduced capacity, mask mandates and many other safety measures, saw universities across the country affected in a way they never could have imagined. 

This pandemic greatly disrupted operations from the University’s standpoint, but for incoming students (including myself), the most substantial diminishments were to the college experience — the feeling of being on campus. Even as a first-generation student, I remember having a certain expectation of what to expect from college life, only to be blindsided by the ramifications that a pandemic would have on those expectations. 

As early as the opening weekend before classes began, I remember having quite a difficult time cultivating any meaningful connections with fellow students due to the strict guidelines. Despite considering myself to be a social, outgoing person, having no in-person engagement options made meeting fellow students essentially nonexistent. 

This of course carried right into the way the school operated on an academic level, with online Zoom classes going as far as impairing the entire classroom dynamic. There was little to no way for students to get to know their professors and fellow classmates, which completely vacuumed up all the cooperative, communal feeling that often comes with studying for a quiz, asking questions about homework assignments, and so forth. 

While Zoom classes were not without their convenient moments, there was a general malaise that fell over every single class, with it all sometimes feeling more like a chore than an actual engaging educational experience. None of this falls on professors either; the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed the way college felt on a day-to-day level. 

Flash forward to a vaccine rollout and a flattening of the curve, and here we are — back to school for what has so far shaped up to be an immensely greater experience. Classes are back and fully in-person, which is something that can not be underestimated for its worth. For the first time since early 2020, it is so refreshing to finally be in a classroom surrounded by familiar faces on a week-to-week basis, all collectively building a learning environment. 

Whether it be the slight stress of an exam or a compelling professor whose presence lights up a room, all of the different little details that come with in-person classes far outweigh the simplicity and disconnected feeling that came with Zoom classes. 

Speaking of connection, many of the great social elements that occur outside the classroom have returned as well. Between the University bringing back exciting outdoor activities like Quadfest and the Activities Fair, as well as clubs being back to normal operations, it’s clear that the student body is excited to be back in the swing of things.

Not only is it motivating, but in many ways it is also fulfilling, to finally see Fairfield University’s campus bustling with energy and activity. The mask mandate may still be in place, but at its core, the feeling that comes with being at college has never felt better. In just these first couple weeks, I can safely say that I have had a more meaningful time than pretty much the entirety of my first year of college during the pandemic. I’m sure everything will only get better as time goes on.

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