Students seek new start after pandemic isolation

First-year college students cope with a different on-campus experience than they’d expected


Going to college for the first time can be a scary and challenging experience whether the world is experiencing a pandemic or not, and many things can change for a person. For on-campus students Bri Lubinski and Brody Hunt, both first-years at Western Washington University, the pandemic brought more change than they ever expected.

For Hunt, the pandemic led to a more self-reliant and comfortably isolated lifestyle before he moved away from Seattle for college and started meeting new people again.

“I felt more social anxiety because these were the first people I had introduced myself to and met since the pandemic hit in March,” Hunt said.

Hunt was overly aware of how presented himself, if he was likeable or acting the right way. While these are all feelings a new student may feel during a normal year, Hunt’s feelings were heightened as he now had social distancing, mask wearing and other pandemic rules to consider when socializing with others.

For Lubinski, from Ellensburg, this same fear was present as she began school, her first time living away from home. More than just the fear of moving away, the pandemic not only made her critical of herself but of others too.

“I think a lot of people see someone with their mask off and immediately feel a little more uncomfortable, but at the same time it’s very easy to get jealous over the relationships and interactions other people are having,” Lubinski said.

Ridgeway residence halls on campus

Along with more judgement, much like Hunt, Lubinski has felt more personally reserved. Both Hunt and Lubinski once considered themselves extroverts before quarantine. While the world has been experiencing the pandemic for more than a year now, everything changed very suddenly and unexpectedly, and continues to do so. This can create uncertainty, especially for young people trying to gain their footing in the life of independence and both first years found themselves making adjustments to their own personalities.

This can have varying effects on a person, as can be seen with Lubinski and Hunt. While these changes made Hunt appreciate the connections he created all the more, it made Lubinski question them, and students all over the world are experiencing their own questions when it comes to social interactions.

To help this uncertainty on the Western campus, the Student Health Center has provided new resources for students. David Hansen, Associate Medical Director at Western’s Health Center, recommends students take advantage of the Counseling Center’s resource page for self-help and wellness.

“The most powerful new resource available to students is telehealth.  Students unable to physically be in Student Health Center or the Counseling Center can now meet with a medical provider or counselor from the comfort of their home,” Hansen said.

“We all want to feel safe, but there are few situations anymore that I’m totally comfortable in just because there’s always a doubt that I’m doing something that could potentially put myself and others at risk,” Lubinski said, referring to group gatherings or even grocery store runs.

New social interactions aren’t all bad, though; and many students are finding that, while it is hard to connect initially, more secure and deeply connected groups are being formed.

“Truth is, part of me likes the security that comes with having a ‘bubble,’ and likes the excuse to stay with the same group,” Hunt said. “It’s more secure, takes less effort, and currently it’s socially acceptable because of the pandemic.”

For new college students, especially those staying on campus at Western, these “bubbles” are easier to form as students are restricted to their dorm buildings to find friends as there are very few in-person classes or other activities to create new bonds. While this does make it easier to make friends with everyone feeling equally lonely or uncertain, students are still looking forward to an old sense of normalcy once quarantine and the pandemic lessens and even the Health Center hopes to use this time to better their resources.

“I suspect the need for new resources will continue as we learn more about the pandemic’s impact on individuals and groups especially as we look toward fall quarter,” Hansen said.

Hunt plans to take the opportunity to find more ways to meet people and actively look for the connections he couldn’t make during the pandemic once it ends. Lubinski hopes for the same but worries that it may take some time for people to feel at ease in social situations again.

“I have hope that we can come out of this with a new, hopefully better, sense of “normalcy.” We’re not great learners, but we’re pretty good thinkers, so that’s got to count for something,” Lubinksi said.