‘I was hesitant then, but now I’m not’: First-years reflect on approaching two months on campus

Fiona Seibert and Lindsay Wang

Peter Miles ’24 (right) spends time with friends Andrew Nachamkin ’24 (left) and Frances Hayward ’24 (back) during a late-night study session. (Photo courtesy of Peter Miles.)

One month ago, the Record spoke with six formerly remote first-years about their fears, expectations, and hopes about stepping onto campus for the first time. Since then, they’ve adjusted to the rhythm of college life, embracing both the expected and the unexpected as they found how they fit into the College community. 

These are their stories, one month later.

‘I was just studying into the dark’

Lea Obermüller ’24, an international student from Munich, Germany, found it difficult to balance the two spheres of her life when she was remote last semester. “At home, I always had my family and my friends, and it’s like being in between places a bit because I had to get into college life, which wasn’t really there because I didn’t know campus or the College or the system,” she said. “I was just studying into the dark.”

After a couple months on campus surrounded by students dedicated to their studies and coursework, Obermüller said the difference has been noticeable. “Being here for a couple of weeks has made me less afraid of talking and speaking up and being there and present in class,” she said. “So I think I can be more active right now, which is a good feeling, and it’s definitely a lot different from last semester.”

Amalia Culpepper-Wehr ’24 discovered that she has similarly adjusted into a healthier work-life balance since the beginning of the semester. Much of her newfound confidence lies in having spent much of the past month becoming comfortable with the campus and the people. 

“I don’t feel like I’m trying to figure out what’s happening next anymore,” Culpepper-Wehr said. “So I can just kind of relax on both fronts. Not like I ever relaxed when it comes to work, but definitely I feel like I’m at equal levels of confidence whereas I used to be like, ‘Yeah, I know what’s going on in my classes, but I don’t know what’s going on with people.’”

‘I haven’t played in like two years now’

As the semester has progressed and things have begun to open up on campus, athletes like Colin Schofield ’24 have enjoyed the opportunity to practice with their teams. “Football has been kind of keeping me busy,” he said. “It can be outside more. We were cleared to do stuff with our coaches, and we lift every day, which is cool. So it’s kind of just, keep trying to get a schedule.”

Peter Miles ’24 shared this sentiment, mentioning that the crew team had been cleared to take buses to go out and practice on the water. “We’re hopefully gonna actually row soon,” he said. “I haven’t done that in forever.”

On top of this, Miles said he is looking forward to a competitive season. “It’s all up in the air, but there is a tentative season lined up,” he explained. “So there’s a few dual meets [planned] and then there’s one with four teams from the NESCAC, I think. And then the Intercollegiate Rowing Association has the big race at the end still scheduled, but I have no idea what’s happening with that.”

Though they won’t have a season this year, football has also been cleared to have more normal practices. “I think we’re gonna be cleared to put on pads soon, though I’m not sure if contact will be allowed,” Schofield said. “But, it’d be cool to kind of play football again, because I haven’t played in like two years now.”

‘Maybe this is a small school, but there are plenty more people to meet’

For many formerly remote first-years, the greatest change throughout the course of the semester has been increased freedom and flexibility in their social lives. “I’ve gotten to go out more,” William Ding ’24 said. “Two weeks ago it was just really nice out, and I was waiting for a friend to come and get lunch, and I saw two seniors playing chess and just sat down and played a game with one of them.”

Ding said he appreciates being able to meet up with his friends whenever he wants. “You always run into peers; you can just kinda walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, wanna go throw a Frisbee, wanna go run?’” he said. “It’s just much more college-like, even with restrictions. I think restrictions mainly only limit the ways we can interact and not necessarily the interactions themselves.”

The constant presence of other students on campus also made Culpepper-Wehr feel more concretely tied to the College. “I really like being able to see people from my classes and other places. Just going out and being like, ‘Oh, hey, I know you from class’ is a really great feeling,” she said. “It always makes me feel like, even though we’ve only seen each other on Zoom, we still have enough of a connection to say, ‘Hi.’ It makes the Zoom part more real.”

Forming connections and making friends happened so quickly for Culpepper-Wehr that she said she was surprised at the ease with which she grew closer to other students. “I was very nervous, like I was going to be here and everybody was gonna already know each other,” she said. “I felt very welcome all around, even outside of people who see me every day, so it was just a very nice surprise to see how constantly welcoming Williams students are.”

For Schofield, it was this ability to meet new people and grow closer to them that became his favorite aspect of living on campus. “I think the best part about everyone’s college life in general is you just meet so many more people,” he said. “It’s just cool to meet so many people and actually be able to call them friends… Maybe this is a small school, but there are plenty more people to meet.”

‘I was hesitant then, but now I’m not’

As she looked back at her time at home studying remotely, Obermüller found that there were some aspects that she missed. “Being able to switch off the computer and just not be in college for a moment … was more possible, I would say, because here, I’m at the College all the time,” she said. 

However, she was grateful for the support that the friends she’s made on campus have offered her. “It can be overwhelming, and I did feel alone…it’s not all rosy clouds and everything,” Obermüller said. “I struggled, and it was hard to get into the system, but I [got] used to it, and I have people that I can turn to if I need [to].”

Schofield found that, though he was unsure about what an in-person semester would be like before he came on campus, it ended up being worth it. “I was almost hesitant coming into my first semester on campus — like, ‘Is this going to be fun, or are we going to feel limited?’” he said. “But no, I think there’s definitely plenty to do. And, yeah, I would say my expectations were, I think, exceeded. I was hesitant then, but now I’m not, and I’m glad.”

This is the second of two articles covering the experience of first-years arriving on campus for the first time. The first article captured the thoughts and experiences of the same students during the first week of classes.