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‘Nothing About This Year Has Been Normal’: The Stories of First-Years Still Stuck at Home

ProvidedWhile some first-years have moved back to campus, many are still completing their first year of college remotely.

Loyola welcomed back 899 first-years to live in on-campus housing this semester — but the remaining 1,230 first-years are still experiencing their first year of college entirely at home through Zoom. 

Students who decided to move into campus residence halls are living in single-occupancy rooms, must get tested for COVID-19 twice a week and are mostly taking classes online, The Phoenix reported.

Stefana Hernandez said she is completing her classes from her parent’s home in the Chicago suburbs. | Courtesy of Stefana Hernandez

Loyola first-year Stefana Hernandez, a psychology major, is among the first-years who decided to stay home or rent their own apartment. Hernandez said she chose to stay at her parents’ home in Westmont, Ill., citing her concern for her parent’s health. 

“It would be better for my parents’ safety if I was at home because they are older,” Hernandez, 18, told The Phoenix.

Aman Huda, an education major living in Atlanta, said he also had health concerns that kept him from moving to Loyola’s campus. Huda, another first-year, said the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in Chicago last fall kept him home.

 “I didn’t want to risk getting it,” Huda, 19, said.

Aside from taking precautions to avoid getting COVID-19, Huda said it didn’t make sense to spend additional money on housing if he was taking all his classes online. 

This semester, the cost of a suite style single room is $4,700, while the cost of an apartment style space is $4,830.

First-year Doaa Maanaoui said she joined a sorority while taking classes from home to connect with the Loyola community. | Courtesy of Doaa Maanaoui

Doaa Maanaoui, a first-year studying biology, also cited financial reasons for not moving to campus. Maanaoui, who lives in East Moline, Ill., said she wanted to live on campus, but was reluctant to spend money for housing if she wasn’t able to go anywhere in the city because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I realized that Chicago was probably going to go back into lockdown,” Maanaoui, 18, said. 

Although most first-years are taking all their classes online, some first-year students living at home find it harder to transition to a college schedule while they’re away from campus.

Aiman Saleem, a first-year, said being at home this semester feels like she’s missing out on campus events. | Courtesy of Aiman Saleem

Aiman Saleem, a first-year nursing major, said she lives 20 minutes from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus in Lincolnwood, Ill.. During the fall semester, Saleem said she didn’t feel like she was missing out on events since no one was living on campus. But now, her friends are on campus in residence halls, while she takes classes from her desk at work.

“I feel like if I were to be on campus dorming, I would have been able to still have a college experience,” Saleem, 18, said.

On the other hand, Isabella Kifer, another first-year who’s studying international business, said she’s finally getting the hang of doing school from home and can better balance classes and self-care this semester.

“I created a better schedule for myself that includes work, school, family and friends,” Kifer, who lives in Waukegan, Ill., said.

First-year Isabella Kifer said this semester has allowed her to become more organized as she continues to learn from home. | Courtesy of Isabella Kifer

Kifer said she joined Loyola’s International Business Society and attended the group’s Zoom meetings.

Students said they’re utilizing both Loyola-sponsored organizations and student-run groups to build connections while living away from campus.

Maanaoui said she decided to go through sorority recruitment this semester and is now part of Loyola’s Phi Sigma Sigma sorority.

“Being able to text the girls about school makes this semester feel somewhat normal, even though we’re living far away from each other,” Maanaoui said.

Iris Michael, an environmental science major, said she feels connected to the Loyola community despite living at home in Mundelein, Ill., by being involved in clubs such as the Student Environmental Alliance and a First-Year Pack — a small group of first-years led by an older undergraduate student to support them through this unique semester.

“We’re all going through the same thing,” Michael, 19, said.

Huda said he’s been able to make friends through class group chats organized by students and the Muslim Student Association.

Aman Huda, a first-year, said he found a campus community through the Muslim Student Association. | Courtesy of Aman Huda

 “I’m amongst a group of people who also want to learn more and explore their identity, so it makes for a really interesting and knowledgeable group of people to be around,” Huda said.

Social media has also played an integral role in building community within the class of 2024. Some students said Instagram accounts such as @loyolachicagoclassof2024 and large group chats in the messaging app GroupMe help to virtually connect the first-years.

Maanaoui said Instagram has been a common way she interacts with other students.

“I follow a lot of people just because they have Loyola class of 2024 in their bio,” Maanaoui said.

Looking ahead to a post COVID-19 world, students said a new life on campus will be yet another adjustment they’ll have to make.

“It will be a culture shock when we’re back on campus because online school is what we’re used to now,” Hernandez said. “We started this halfway through senior year and now we’re going into our second year of college.”

First-year Iris Michael said she utilized university-organized groups to feel connected to campus. | Courtesy of Iris Michael

Michael said she’s looking forward to an end to the unpredictability of the pandemic and is excited to do the normal things a Loyola student would do, such as studying in the Information Commons on the Lake Shore Campus. 

“Nothing about this year has been normal,” Michael said.

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