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(Madison Francois)

University of Oregon students are eager to return to in-person learning for fall term after being remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic since spring of 2020. However, some are concerned about readjusting to in-person learning.

UO senior Eric Hurd said he is excited to return to in-person learning and being on campus. While classes are important, he said he’s excited to have the full college experience again.

“You're not just getting the degree. It’s not just for taking classes,” Hurd said. “A lot of it is the whole experience: being on campus, being around other students, meeting other students, taking advantage of the facilities.”

He said that working over Zoom was difficult, and it felt like he was just going through the motions. It felt like he was working to “get a piece of paper,” but not getting much out of the college experience. While the university did its best, Hurd said, advising and other extracurricular activities didn’t feel as accessible as they would have been if they were in-person.

UO senior Isabelle Cullen said she’s also excited to get back to campus. It felt like she was “cheated” out of the college experience last year, she said. As a neuroscience major, she said she’s excited to be able to work in labs without the computer screen being an obstacle.

“Once we get into those group rooms, everyone just turns off their camera and doesn't talk,” Cullen said.

However, a return to in-person learning means that students will have to adjust to social interactions again. UO counseling center assistant director Mariko Lin said there will likely be a lot of social anxiety among students. She said students will possibly be trying to figure out how to socialize in a college setting all over again.

With a challenging adjustment coming up, Lin said students should ease into social interactions when it comes to being in groups and give themselves some slack.

“Be patient with yourself, be compassionate to yourself,” she said. “We're all going to have to relearn the skills that we used before.”

While it had its issues, Zoom wasn’t all bad for students. Cullen said recorded lectures were particularly helpful for her, as she could watch at her own pace and go back to sections that confused her. It wasn’t as good as being in the classroom, she said, but she’ll miss the flexibility that came with virtual learning.

However, UO might still need those recorded lectures. Kristen Henderson, a math professor at UO, said that students who can’t travel to Eugene due to the pandemic could still need online classes. If there’s a COVID-19 outbreak or a student is out sick, it’s difficult for teachers to adapt their classes to an online format, Henderson said.

“In our department, we have practically no online options for students,” Henderson said. “So there's no way students can make that choice if they want to protect themselves — if they feel that’s something they need to do.”

And while Henderson said this accessibility gap is concerning, she said she is most concerned about everybody’s health and safety.

Henderson has two kids who aren’t old enough to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and she said she’s worried about bringing the virus home with her.

“I am going to a small room with 25 people three times a day, and I have a huge potential to bring that back to my kids,” she said. “That makes me very nervous.”

Even though UO requires students and faculty to be fully vaccinated — with some exceptions — the Delta variant is surging through Oregon. Hurd and Cullen both said the thought of getting sent home again because of an outbreak makes them anxious.

Cullen said that having to move across the country to her home in New Hampshire would be incredibly difficult, especially going into her final year and applying for grad school. The thought of working on her thesis remotely is not pleasant, she said.

“That's not what I signed up for, not what I want to do,” she said. “I want the actual experience of doing my own research.”

The return to semi-normalcy is great, Cullen said, but she’s uncertain about how the university community will handle the change.

“We all want to get back to normalcy,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think that's also going to drive irresponsible behavior in ways of parties and large gatherings.”

With pandemic and academic anxieties coming together, some students might find themselves overwhelmed, Lin said. It’s going to be challenging, she said, but she hopes students will utilize UO services, as well as their peers.

“Talk about how you feel, what anxieties are coming up,” she said. “I'm sure just talking with others is just going to normalize the concerns that everybody else is having.”