One year ago, students at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse started to receive the first news of the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 11, 2020 UWL Chancellor Joe Gow sent out an email regarding initial changes to the spring semester by cancelling classes for the week following spring break, with the note that classes would resume online until April 10, 2020. It has been over a year since the initial shutdown and students and community members are still operating remotely with COVID-19 restrictions and protocol.
UWL sophomore and early childhood and middle childhood education major, Melanie Steib said, “I’m very overwhelmed and burnt out. I’m starting to be more optimistic about it. I’m hoping that things will return to normal pretty soon.”
Steib spent almost the entirety of the past year at home. She returned to campus second semester of the 2020-2021 school year. “Being home for a year and being a college student was definitely very different. It’s not how I imagined my sophomore year going.”
Steib said she has become accustomed to rules and regulations put forth because of the pandemic. She said, “I wear my mask and I don’t even think about it. It’s just second nature.”
Steib said that online classes have been hard for her and she looks forward to a sense of normalcy. She said that although the pandemic is not what anyone imagined there are things to learn from it. “The pandemic has taught me a lot of things. Even though, obviously, I wish it didn’t happen, it has helped me grow as a person. Appreciate what you have because you never know when it’s going to be gone, as cliché as that sounds.”
UWL senior and Spanish education major, Madi Olson, was studying abroad in Costa Rica when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She was 10 weeks into her 15-week program when the news hit that they would be going home. She said that the administration sent out an email notifying them that they would only be sent home if their country reached a level three safety warning. Two days later she received an email that everyone was being called home. She said, “That was more so a shock. First hearing ‘you are probably going to be good’ and then hearing ‘nope just kidding come home’.”
Olson said when the first lockdown was put in place when she and her family had a countdown marking down days until the lockdown was lifted. She said, “Little did we know it was going to be going on forever. Obviously, things have changed from the complete lockdown to how we are living now. Like a lot of people, we just expected it to be the two weeks to maybe a month and we would be good to go.”
Olson said she is happy that they will be able to have a semi-normal graduation ceremony for the graduates this year. She said, “I remember thinking last year in the first couple of months, at least this isn’t my senior year. And then sure enough it was my senior year. It’s kind of cool we will have something.”
Olson has been student teaching this year and feels that she is able to sympathize with students that are learning online. She said, “This is professional development that is being forced on us. You have to learn how to use online resources and how to accommodate different situations. I feel like I’m learning more than I would if it were a normal year.”
UWL sophomore and geography major Mabel Kirst, was on the UWL Women’s Track and Field team when the COVID-19 shut down occurred. “It all started when track was canceled. That part of college got taken away,” she said, “That’s what we did 24/7. It was super weird to not have that. You work so hard and then you just can’t do it anymore.”
Kirst said she has become used to the COVID-19 regulations. She said, “I cannot imagine not wearing a mask now. I’ve gotten so conditioned to everything. I feel like after being in it for a whole year you kind of get used to all the precautions you have to take.” She said, “I think it’ll be a while before we can completely bounce back. It will be really weird because I can’t imagine going into a store now and not wearing a mask. I feel like that’s gross now but it was so normal before.”
Kirst, like others, misses pre-pandemic life. Kirst said, “I miss interactions you would have with people on a day-to-day basis. It’s even like ‘should I hold the door for this person?’ because I’m getting too close to them. I miss the community aspect we used to have.”
UWL sophomore and radiation therapy major Aubree Schramski said, “It’s not something we wished for, but we can’t change what happened. We have to just accept it.” She said it was challenging to start off college normally last year and switch to a completely different lifestyle in the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year. She said, “Especially in my classes in a science major. It’s been hard to switch completely online for my labs because I don’t get the in-person experience that others got to have.”
Schramski said, “It’s been a lot more challenging for me because I am a hands-on learner. I’d rather be in class listening to someone than watching it online, so it definitely has affected my learning. However, it kind of scares me when we go back to in-person. It’s going to be more challenging to transition back to all in-person and learning a new style all over again after being online for an entire year.” She said that it will be challenging when she has to relearn study techniques and regroup with people in her classes.
Schramski said, “I’ve learned that there are many challenges we have to go through in our lives and this is just one of them.” She said she is looking forward to the future and is hopeful for what is to come. “I definitely feel like the pandemic is, hopefully, coming to an end. It does seem like it is starting to get better and there are not as many cases around. I do think eventually it will be better and we will be back to somewhat normal and somewhat like it used to be. Yes, I do see a light at the end and hopefully, it is coming soon.”