Finding my New Normal: Lessons from My Transition Back to Campus

Category Student Voices

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Amy Chalán
Amy Chalán Class of '23
Authored on December 14, 2021

Article

Naively, I believed my college life would continue exactly where it left off in March 2019, but I soon realized that my personal experience as a student during these unprecedented times was very unique and warranted substantial reflection as I began to approach my senior year.  

The pandemic has taken a substantial toll on people’s lives, families, health, but has also served as a time of self-discovery and introspection. For me, the pandemic allowed me to learn about my identity and passions outside of the Harvard setting and my return back to campus prompted me to think about my place and role as a student moving forward.  

In this blog, I will reflect on the ways I adapted during this transition and lessons I want to carry forward to make the most of my time left on campus. Whether you are a prospective college student or current student cramming for your finals, I hope that my reflection will help you think about your potential to shape your student experience and academic path moving forward! 

  1. Be prepared for sensory overload. While your high school or first-year experience at college may be in the distant past, adjusting to in-person learning may bring back the overstimulation reminiscent of being a new student and that is okay!  

After more than a year spent at home during the pandemic, there were a lot of things I forgot how to do such as socializing with other college students and getting ready for class more than 10 minutes before it starts!  

A new challenge for me was sensory overload-when your senses take in more information than your brain can process, triggering feelings of anxiety and discomfort. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the return to the pace of campus life, but finding a routine for self-care really helped me find ways to adjust. When I lived in New York during the pandemic, I utilized bike rides as my form of self-care and discovery since I used to bike around my neighborhood in Brooklyn to become familiar with the landscape. On Harvard's campus, going on bike rides, listening to podcasts or music, and journaling by the Charles River became my favorite way to take a step away from the dining hall, my dorm room, and classrooms. This way I was able to control my own adjustment to my new surroundings, like I did in New York, and I also found that prioritizing my wellness by keeping myself well-rested, hydrated, and nourished allowed me to feel ready to take on every day.  

sunset

Taking a break from studying

My roommate and I took many walks by the river together as study breaks. Sometimes I would even bring my camera to film for my film class! Amy Chalan

Another unexpected challenge that reminded me of my first semester on campus was remembering how to socialize with new people. Although I had gotten used to making friends through skateboarding over the pandemic, as a junior, I returned to a campus that felt slightly unfamiliar without the juniors and seniors that I had grown accustomed to. Not only was I catching up with old friends who I hadn’t seen since March 2019, but I was also meeting new first-years and sophomores everyday through classes, residential houses, and extracurricular activities. This offered an ample opportunity to re-familiarize myself with campus and re-evaluate my role as a student.  

In an attempt to get out of my Zoom-shell of reactions and private chats, I made an effort to become friends with first-years and sophomores in my classes by suggesting a group study session, grabbing lunch in the dining hall after class, or working on assignments together. One of my best friends became a sophomore in my film class, who was in a previous film class I took via Zoom. We began walking to our dorms together after class, shooting for our assignments together, and quickly became friends outside of an academic setting. At the same time, I became friends with a super-senior in my residential house, Leverett House, and we established a nightly routine of listening to music by the river at night. I soon realized both of my friends knew each other through FIG Magazine and by the end of the semester, we became very close knit and they introduced me to many new friends who shared similar interests such as art, fashion, and skateboarding! 

  1. Set aside time to reflect on your academic journey, definitions of learning and achievement, and the goals you set for yourself.  

Remote learning drastically changed my academic habits from my first year since I grew used to the flexibility of Zoom classes and the new academic interests I pursued during the pandemic such as filmmaking.  

Returning to campus as a junior with a declared concentration meant that I had to think about my concentration requirements, begin planning for my future thesis, and take on challenging classes. My academic goals had also changed since remote learning prompted me to break my obsession with grades and formal recognition. When I lived in New York, I found a new work-life balance to manage Zoom fatigue and my wellness became just as important as my academic success. In-person, I initially felt overwhelmed by the rigor of my classes and felt the pressure to return to my first-year self, but I didn’t want to lose the well-rounded student I became during the pandemic.  

Although I still cared a great deal about doing well in my classes, redefining my definition of learning, achievement, and academic wellness allowed me to take on the semester day by day. For example, in New York I often went to a nearby park to join Zoom classes, read, film, and watercolor during breaks. This fall when the weather was nice, I made it a routine to study by the river twice a week with my roommate. We set up a picnic blanket, speaker, and snacks by the Weeks Bridge and this became my way of taking on large weekly reading assignments. For study breaks, my roommates and I would lay on the hammocks in Leverett Courtyard together and listen to music. When the weather changed, we began to take study breaks by doing Just Dance in my dorm and this became one of my favorite memories from this semester. Additionally, my in-person film class, which was a daunting 4.5 hours long, prompted me to set a routine every Thursday where I had breakfast with friends in Quincy House every Thursday morning before class.

studyingbytheriver

Studying by the river

With a picnic blanket, coffee, and a snack, anything is possible! Amy Chalan

As a student studying remotely in New York, I found new ways of venturing into my environment by skateboarding, going to museums, and going to live music shows in the nearby park. When I was back in Cambridge, I wanted to maintain this avenue for discovery and learning. As a first-year, I used to venture into Boston to go thrifting or check out a new restaurant. This year, I attended two concerts, Men I Trust and Chicano Batman, at Paradise Rock Club with my best friend. We bought these tickets a few weeks in advance and when I found myself overwhelmed by midterms or campus life, I remembered that I had plans to reward myself on the horizon.  

concert

A great reward for finishing midterms

Paradise Rock Club is a popular and typically affordable concert venue in Boston! Amy Chalan

For me, learning was not only about my grades and academic standing, but the process of learning was equally as important. Whether you spice up your learning routine by studying outside, dedicating time to take breaks from studying, or finding new study habits for different classes, it is important to reflect on yourself as a student and rediscover a love for learning that may have changed during remote learning. 

  1. Remember that your support system is wide and abundant! Whether you turn to fellow students, faculty, or administrators, it is important to know that you are not alone and seek out the support resources that are available to you.  

Another major change I saw in myself as a student during remote-learning was my level of engagement with faculty and administrators. During my first year, I used to attend office hours every week, seek help from my Proctor and Peer Advising Fellow frequently, and created an informal support network to manage the adjustment to college life. Over Zoom, I lost a lot of these habits in an effort to manage my screen time, so the first few times I felt overwhelmed on campus, I forgot the places where I used to seek support and felt unprepared for the independence of being a junior. 

strike

Attending the Harvard Grad Students Union strike in Harvard Yard

Equally important is recognizing your role and responsibility as a student to support the Harvard community. Amy Chalan

I soon managed this feeling by reaching out to friendly faces and finding a new support network of advisors that helped me manage the adjustment. For example, I reached out to the professor for a film class I took last spring via Zoom, and we were finally able to meet in person and discuss film, college life, and our Latin American backgrounds over coffee. Later in the semester, I began communicating with my resident dean when I fell behind on a few deadlines, and was shocked I hadn’t done so sooner because we worked together to communicate with my professors, set better study routines, and manage new learning challenges.  

  1. Be patient with yourself and others! 

 Lastly, it is important to remember to be patient with yourself, your peers, and your teachers! During the pandemic, faculty and students were extended trust, flexibility, and compassion from Harvard. In this return to a ‘New Normal’, I hope that we will continue to approach education with a humanizing lens and continue to take action on addressing inequities that students of varied socio-economic and demographic backgrounds face, even if we are not learning remotely anymore.  

Whether you are struggling with a classmate over a group project, nervous to ask for an extension on an assignment, or frustrated with yourself for having difficulty with something that was once easy, remember to have patience with those around you. Ask your classmate to grab lunch, trust that your professor will be understanding, and ask for help! As we learned over the last two years, it is the people around us that create community and our peers, faculty, and administrators are people too!  

Amy Chalán Class of '23

Hi there! My name is Amy Chalán and I’m a junior in Leverett House. I’m concentrating in Social Studies with a secondary in Art, Film, & Visual Studies in the Film Production track! While I grew up in suburban New York, I was born in Ecuador and am a proud member of the Saraguro indigenous community.

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Amy Chalán