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Masked students in GEOL 100, a large lecture class, on Sept. 1. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Two weeks after diving back into in-person classes, first years and sophomores expressed excitement about the opportunity to have shared on-campus experiences with others.

The first years and sophomores said they have enjoyed their in-person classes and the ability to see their classmates face to face on campus, although they admitted the transition has been abrupt for some students after more than a year of primarily solely virtual interactions. 

“Being on campus and being in person is exciting, although it does come with its limitations,”  Eileen Wang, a first year in Wharton, said, explaining that she has faced some COVID-19-related difficulties in classes, including soft-spoken professors wearing two masks and a recitation being held online with poor connection.

"It's not exactly the same, but it's the best we can get," she said. "So I'm pretty happy with that.”

Similarly, College first year Thomas Shaw said the atmosphere surrounding this semester has been enthusiastic, and that everyone Shaw has met seems excited to be in person. 

“It is much easier to find people and to find things that are happening just by walking around or being in places where people gather. It's so much easier, and it's so much more fun,” Shaw said. 

Eashwar Kantemneni, a sophomore in the College, said this year has felt much more like an actual college experience so far, since it’s been easier to meet new people and spend time with friends in dining halls and dorm rooms. He added that campus is “much more lively” this year.

Likewise, College sophomore Anooshey Ikhlas agreed that Penn's social element was much more present this year, explaining that she now has the opportunity to walk to and from classes with other students and eat with friends in the dining hall, all new experiences for her at Penn.

“At the end of the day — school and all the social activities — I felt so tired, but kind of in a good way,” 

Marisol Sanchez, a sophomore in the College, agreed, saying that crossing paths with people has become much more common. She said she’s been able to turn casual connections with classmates and acquaintances into friendships by making plans, seeing each other on Locust Walk, and grabbing lunch. 

While students have eagerly awaited a return to in-person campus life, some are feeling a sense of anxiety associated with in-person interactions.

Sanchez said that she has been both anxious and excited about returning to an in-person environment. The pandemic — and not being around lots of people — has caused her to worry about returning to her normal social life, but she has enjoyed in-person interactions in class and meeting new people in a “natural” way. 

College first year Anthony Wong agreed, saying he has made strong connections with students and professors in his small seminar classes. Another student, Engineering first year Arda Enfiyeci, who took a gap year last year and did not take virtual classes, said he is grateful to have classes in person this year.

After a year of awkward breakout rooms, Sanchez said, it has been a relief to connect with her professors more deeply and work with in-person groups for her ASTR 001: "Survey of the Universe" class. 

Kantemneni also said that in-person classes have provided opportunities to connect with professors in an easier and more natural way. Especially in his small seminar class, he said he's been able to learn more about his professor and classmates than he previously did in virtual classes. 

While some students indulged in the pandemic-induced flexibility of virtual learning, Ikhlas realized that having to attend her lectures every day has helped her avoid procrastination and keep up with assignments. Sanchez and Kantemneni also said they sometimes miss the flexibility of online classes and recorded lectures, even though they find in-person classes to be more engaging.

“I was scared at first, but then it felt normal,” Ikhlas said.

Several students said that participating in New Student Orientation and Second-Year Orientation helped them adjust to campus life.

Even the students who are not going to parties on campus, Wang said, have seemed eager to embrace new in-person social activities and NSO events, especially after spending so much of the past two years isolated.

“It was just very difficult to get out of my comfort zone when I was stuck inside," Wang said, adding that walking around campus and going to the club fairs have been very exciting.

Arfiyeci echoed this sentiment, saying that even though many of the scheduled activities during NSO appealed to him, he appreciated the opportunity to meet people in an organic way.

“[The pandemic] has, if anything, brought us closer, in wanting to work together after a long span of time of not really having good chances to meet, and discuss and create,” Shaw said.