Mariela Lopez-Oviedo is a junior environmental studies major.
Nearly four months after coming back to campus, we are finally understanding the two experiences of learning virtually and in-person. The whole “back to school” experience, though, is not the same as back to normal.
I am a transfer student from San Diego Mesa College who decided to attend the University of San Francisco last semester because of the career opportunities I noticed in the city. I always saw the Bay Area as a place that values diversity, growth, and innovation. As an environmental studies major, these three values are critical in what I want to end up pursuing, especially in a city of evolving technology.
Before transferring, the thought of in-person classes had not even crossed my mind. I felt optimistic about coming to a new school and meeting new people. However, I entered my second semester of sophomore year in January and met people through Zoom meetings. While I was disappointed to be stuck in this ongoing virtual space, my classmates and professors made it an incredibly welcoming adjustment.
I knew that the in-person transition was going to be hard, but after being online for three semesters, I was ready to begin my journey of living in a new city and focusing on myself and my career. Now that I am halfway into my first semester as a junior, I can say that I have grown greatly. I have also noticed that I am capable of much more than I thought.
It was hard moving into a studio apartment by myself. While everyone was excited to be rooming with other students, my homesickness grew. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love the people I have met so far, and my friends here in San Francisco want nothing but the best for me.
As a student, you can tell that professors at USF are very passionate about what they teach. Now that I am learning in person, I can see my professors channeling a lot more excitement into lectures and projects. This can be overwhelming for me at times because it feels like a lot more than what I was used to before experiencing in-person learning on a collegiate level. Nonetheless, I recognize its importance as it offers individual opportunities for growth that are not as strong online and helps build relationships with classmates and instructors. We’re able to have direct contact with our professors for one-on-one advising and tutoring, and these face-to-face interactions help us develop the social skills we need to transition into our professional careers.
Make no mistake, virtual learning also has its benefits. During the pandemic, I enjoyed the flexible schedule that virtual learning created. I used it to cook healthier meals, exercise more, or even sleep longer. Now all I seem to plan for is my commute, getting ready in the morning, and whether I even have time to eat. Being online also helped me find what I specifically want to do with my studies. I ended up declaring my minor in entrepreneurship and innovation and found many opportunities that help me combine my passion for environmental studies and the arts.
As students, we should be proud of what we have gone through. Even though learning online during the pandemic was an unexpected and an undesirable experience, we were still able to demonstrate our strength and adaptability-traits that will guide us in the future.
Now that I also have two in-person jobs, my life has undergone a complete social shock. Since my junior year of high school, I worked online as a freelance entrepreneur running multiple small businesses. Initially, I dreaded the thought of finding an in-person administrative job, but so far, it has been one of the best decisions I have made. My managers and coworkers welcomed me into their little office family without hesitation. This helped me realize that I was sick of Zoom and needed this in-person time.
As I have readjusted to going out into the world, I have also realized the value of hybrid schedules. I believe workplaces should definitely provide flexible scheduling options for student workers. Sometimes we need a breather or need to be home for a day to recharge. It should also be acknowledged that with the continued advancement of technology, schoolwork can be designed for virtual learning to make it more efficient
We need to take a break from in-person life and take time to improve our mental health. It is also important for professors and mentors to be understanding of our experience as students. But I found USF to be a place of comfort and achievement, so hybrid options and flexibility have definitely increased my growth.