Remote students share varying experiences of pandemic restrictions

Hikaru Wakeel Hayakawa

Three hundred sixty-one students enrolled at the College remotely, according to numbers released this July. And inevitably, for each one of us, there are different COVID-19 restrictions, home environments and learning experiences.

Remote students Gabi Medvene-Cirigliano ’21 and Soren Campbell ’24 told me that they still do not regularly leave their homes. “Now we’re at the point where gyms are still closed,” Medvene-Cirigliano of Agoura Hills, Calif., said. “Indoor restaurants are still closed, but hair salons and manicure shops are open. And I guess spas are open as well, and malls are now open. But I haven’t actually been anywhere yet.”

Campbell shared a similar sentiment about his lockdown experience in Amherst, Mass. “I’ve pretty much spent most of my days at home just kind of doing work and studying and that kind of thing,” he said. “The main thing is just having limited social access to friends and not being able to go everywhere that I normally would.” 

However, both Medvene-Cirigliano and Campbell said they occasionally meet up with friends while social distancing. Still, Medvene-Cirigliano said that she has seen only three friends since the beginning of quarantine, and is cautious because she lives with her parents and 95-year-old grandmother.  

Outside of the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed differently.

According to Lea Obermüller ’24, from Munich, Germany, the German government started a pandemic containment program in March and organized a crisis team that established a national pandemic plan that was provided to the German federal states. Now, Obermüller said her life has started to become more normal. (This interview occurred prior to the recent rise in cases in Europe).

“Munich is a risk region, so there are some contact bans, but not very strict ones,” she said.  “You can have festivities with up to 50 people. You can meet with people, you can go to restaurants, to bars. It’s all open. You just have to wear masks. And so, you see that the regulations are pretty relaxed here.” 

Obermüller added that she regularly meets with her closest friends. “I have friends that are cautious,” she said. “I can trust them to pay attention to who they meet. We have dinner together. We cook together. We go out together. I’ve been to the movies already, and in a theater. So actually, it’s pretty normal to meet with friends, but not in huge groups of 10 [or] 20 people.”

However, Shizah Kashif ’24 from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said that though many restrictions have been lifted, she remains in a self-imposed quarantine. “I live in the city of Dubai, and these cases are reported on a national basis, and they haven’t told us which city or which state they’re coming in from,” said Kashif. “This is ambiguity, and ambiguity is kind of what’s fueling the fear right now.”

Earlier, Shizah said that Dubai experienced a stringent lockdown for over two months. “To go outside, you actually had to register yourself on an app and obtain a license,” Kashif said. “You could not leave your home [late at night] because after 10 p.m., the government deployed these sanitation trucks and units out on the streets and then they would sanitize the city.”

Most students interviewed agreed that the hardest aspect of the remote experience is finding time away from their computers. Medvene-Cirigliano said she likes to get outside as a break from screen time and enjoys swimming and hiking.“I’ve just been hanging out at home, or just going on hikes with a couple of my friends who I know have been careful,” she said.

Obermüller said that she has enjoyed spending time with friends. “I would say my biggest hobby is meeting friends at the moment because sometimes I’m just so tired after my lectures, and after a day of working, I’m not really motivated to learn more,” she said.

Both Campbell and Kashif also said that they have spent more time than usual with their family.  “I play lots of board games with my dad, and that’s always been the case,” Campbell said. “But it’s definitely ramped up a bit. Also, I’ll play Frisbee with [my sisters] a lot and just toss a disk around. That can be fun.”

For now, as restrictions continue to be in place for most remote Ephs, both Campbell and Medvene-Cirigliano said they advise their peers to make time outside of school for relaxation. “Just take it one day at a time — don’t try to do too many things in a day,” Medvene-Cirigliano said. “Whenever I feel like I’m too busy or too clouded with school, I always try to get outside, like just go for a walk around my neighborhood and just take a deep breath.”

All the remote students interviewed said they hope to enroll on campus for the spring semester. While Campbell has remained cautious throughout the pandemic, he said he is proud of both his home community and Williamstown for remaining safe.

“I’m just pretty proud of my community for what we’ve done so far, trying to keep cases low,” he said. “I say that looking at Williamstown and Williams, it seems like they’ve been doing a great job as well. I’m excited to be able to be on campus at some point and get to meet everyone and hopefully continue to take care of all of our communities.”