The second first-years

The Class of 2024 reflects on their first month on campus

The transition to in-person learning has been especially challenging for second-years who didn't have a typical first-year experience.
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The return to campus is one sign the pandemic may be coming to an end. However, the return to in-person learning hasn’t been easy for everyone. Beginning the semester without having a traditional first year has made the transition back to in-person learning challenging for some second-year students.

The Journal sat down with several students from the class of 2024 to discuss their first-year experience and their hopes and concerns for the upcoming year at Queen’s.

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First year is a chance for people to try new things, build their identity away from home, and create their own lifestyle. Much of this transformation is attributed to an on-campus experience of living in residence, attending lectures, and meeting people on the same path as you.

In response to COVID-19, Queen’s moved most classes and campus activities online during the 2020-21 academic year. This was an isolating experience for many students who didn’t have the opportunity to be on campus.

The lack of in-person classes was a detriment to both the academic and social lives of students.  Without a typical first-year experience, students are more likely to experience high levels of stress. 

“It was challenging to get motivated,” Caroline Oldman, ConEd ’24, wrote in an email to The Journal

Like many, Oldman’s mental image of her first year of university was shattered by social distancing measures put in place during the pandemic.

“It was certainly different than what I had expected,” she said.

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Some first-year students were able to live in Queen’s residence during the 2020-21 school year. Residence facilities functioned at approximately 50 per cent capacity with many alterations for safety.  Although this raised hopes for the students still looking for the traditional first-year Queen’s last fall, some were disappointed. 

Thomas Woods, Eng ’24, is one of those students.

“When [COVID-19] came around, I understood there would be some restrictions [in residence]. I didn’t realize to what extent,” Woods explained in an interview with The Journal.

Queen’s introduced new health and safety practices for residences during the 2020-21 school year to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These procedures included wearing masks, social distancing, and enforcing occupational limits. 

“There wasn’t a lot of freedom,” Woods explained. “I couldn’t walk around or meet a lot of new people.”

Although COVID-19 policies and procedures were vital to student safety, they inhibited students’ ability to socialize with one another.

“I felt very isolated and confined,” Woods said. “I was expecting to be able to do what regular [upper-] years were doing.”

Although living in residence offered some aspects of the traditional first-year experience, students still missed out on milestones like socializing in common rooms with friends from other floors and getting lost during the first week of class. In fall 2021, the second years were just as lost as the first years.

Despite living in residence last year, Woods still had little understanding of the buildings and classrooms around campus this fall.

“Google Maps was my friend,” Woods said. “My friends and I walked to our classes the day beforehand to find them.”

Woods hopes the 2021-22 school year will resemble a more “regular year.”

Eve Dalton, ArtSci ’24, lived in residence at the same time as Woods.

As the cases counts of COVID-19 fluctuated throughout the year, Kingston went in and out of lockdowns, making it difficult for students to get used to the flow of university life.

“We were going into lockdown, and then we’d be out. It was really unpredictable,” Dalton said in an interview with The Journal. “Definitely not what I was expecting.”[ST1] 

Although Dalton’s first year of university was unprecedented, she still looked back on her experiences in residence with fondness. [ST2] 

“I met really good friends. I don’t regret anything. Obviously, I’m very happy I went [to residence].”

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While students traditionally find roommates for their second-year off-campus housing in first year, during COVID-19, the majority of the class of 2024 didn’t have the advantage of finding those roommates through residence or in-person classes. As a result, some struggled to find housing.

This process was made more difficult because students didn’t know until July whether they would be back on campus for the upcoming academic year. This meant that second-year students were scrambling to find housing for September this summer rather than signing leases during their first year.

“I didn’t go into the process [of finding a house for second year] knowing many people,” Oldman said. “Finding housing given our circumstances felt overwhelming and isolating.”

It’s already a taxing process to find affordable and livable housing in Kingston without the added pressure of a pandemic. 

While the search for housing was especially difficult for incoming second-years who weren’t able to live in residence, it was easier for those who lived on campus.

“Luckily, I had friends on my floor to help us find a house,” Woods said.

For those who weren’t in residence, Queen’s Community Housing helped students find affordable housing close to campus and acted as a resource for second-years looking for off-campus housing.

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The transition for the class of 2024 may be difficult. Still, Queen’s has many resources to help with the transition, including career counselling, housing resources, and opportunities to connect with other students.

The Second-Year Stride is one such [ST3] program run by the Student Experience Office (SEO). It’s designed specifically for second-year students and their transition from first to second year.  This organization focuses on building social networks, engaging with the community, and supporting academic endeavors.

For academic aid, students can consult Student Academic Success Services (SASS). For students looking to build connections and community, there are many clubs and organizations on campus.

The on-campus experience is a significant piece of university life. The return to campus this year is welcomed by second-year students eager to further their journey at Queen’s.

“The first few classes have been so refreshing,” Oldman said.

Although the adjustment for second years will be large, evident from students’ opinions, there’s a sense of relief and gratitude as in-person classes resume.

 “I am so grateful to have the opportunity to finally be here and enjoy the beautiful campus,” Oldman said.

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