Surreal excitement: New Dons bring energy back to campus

Freshman Sophie Cooper in her dorm at Gillson Hall. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHIE COOPER

After two and a half semesters of remote learning, USF students return to campus with renewed enthusiasm. Among them are freshmen, sophomores, and transfer students who are brand-new to the Hilltop. For them, living and learning amidst a global pandemic has become the norm, but being with their peers has been a hopeful experience.

Freshman nursing major Sophie Cooper is still taking it all in. “It’s definitely a surreal feeling being here on campus and seeing everyone walking around,” she said. “Whenever I came to visit USF before, it was completely empty.” Besides adjusting to the fast-paced environment of campus, Cooper is trying to navigate her dorm life. “The hill between Gillson and the upper part of campus is a killer,” she said.

Cooper is taking all of her classes in person this semester. However, the unstable reality of studying during a pandemic still weighs on her. “I’m worried about the prospect of classes going virtual again, but it is what it is,” she said. Cooper’s newfound love for the city has kept her positive. “Coming from a suburb, it’s just insane looking out at the view of San Francisco. I’m so happy to be here,” she said.

Cooper is not the only new Don excited to be in the city. Fellow freshman and biology major Benjamin Mandzukic said living in the city was one of his main reasons for choosing USF and expressed a familiar sentiment among his peers. “Classes are a lot better in-person because I’m forced to pay attention,” he said. “I can actually learn now because everything is basically back to normal.” 

New students partake in the annual University convocation ceremony. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS

Kala Yamaguchi, a freshman design major, lives on the same floor as Mandzukic. “Living in the dorms is honestly awesome. We have the best view, and the coolest people on our floor,” he said. “I was so pent up during COVID so it’s really relieving to see so many other young people and be able to go explore.” 

Like others, Yamaguchi is tired of online learning. “It’s great having in-person classes, but having anything on Zoom is still frustrating,” he said. “Although, professors here do a really good job of making even the online classes easy to follow.” 

Along with the freshmen class, transfer students are finding their place at USF this week. Mariela Lopez, a junior environmental studies major, transferred to USF last semester from a community college in San Diego. “I had taken online classes at community college, but there was definitely a big difference once I started taking them at USF,” she said. “The professors here are genuinely engaged and care about their students.”

GO Team provided campus tours for new students during the Welcome Weekends. PHOTO COURTESY OF USF OFFICE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS 

Lopez chose to live off-campus this year in order to focus on herself. “It’s so great to finally be in SF and be able to go out and explore on my own,” she said. Being isolated from other students during the pandemic changed Lopez’s understanding of what is normal. “When I first got here, my brain had a little stimulus shock because of how busy it is on campus,” she said. Remaining cautious, Lopez said, “I’m a little worried that there might be another lockdown just because I would have to quarantine alone.”

For many students, the college experience is just beginning, but it has already exceeded their expectations. With students adjusting to an in-person education again and finally socializing with their peers for the first time in a year and a half, they are finding the full college experience at the Hilltop.

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