When Storke Tower’s clock struck at 8 a.m. on Monday morning during the first week of school, thousands of students were there to hear it for the first time in over a year. Likewise, Isla Vista (I.V.), which for months seemed like a ghost town, had its nightlife completely revitalized by all the students who have missed out on over a year’s worth of debauchery.
Save for some rules and regulations to keep COVID-19 at bay, it seems like UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) is finally returning to normal. There are waves of excitement among the student population, and everyone is ready to start the new school year in-person.
Devanshi Mehta is a third-year student at UCSB studying economics and art history. She spent the last year in Los Angeles with her family, and she was fortunately able to see all of her friends at home regularly. However, like many other students coming back to campus, it was still startling for her to see so many people all at once and to actually attend a lecture in-person instead of watching it through a computer screen.
“I remember when I went to my first in-person class, I thought, ‘Is this even real? It feels like a dream’,” she remarks in an interview with The Bottom Line.
That kind of surreal sentiment, of being in school in flesh and blood, is something echoed by many students. Although it was a bit of a shock for Mehta, she is completely enjoying and embracing it.
While talking about seeing waves of students around her for the first time in an eternity, she said, “After I got used to that, it’s been nice seeing UCSB’s culture flourish. It’s been really nice walking past people and having random interactions with strangers. I really missed that.”
Although she does not miss too much about online learning, one thing she will miss is the ease of access to all the lectures and not having to commute to classes. She misses the efficiency of having everything on her computer and weeks of lectures being put online for her to work on.
Mehta is also in a unique situation: during the first summer of the pandemic, she and a recent graduate founded a campus organization called Gaucho Creative Marketing Consulting Group.
Focusing on giving students a much needed marketing and consulting experience, Gaucho Creative works with real-life businesses and offers these companies a wide range of marketing services, from revamping and growing their website and social media to creating an entire intranet system from scratch.
Right now, UCSB has no marketing or consulting major, nor does it have a campus organization that does what Gaucho Creative does. As such, Mehta has put her blood, sweat, and tears into growing Gaucho Creative and its student experience. For the current fall client cycle, they boast clients such as Zoom, Uber, and Monet (another start up by a UCSB alumnus).
Since every single event and meeting up until this point has been done online, transitioning to an in-person environment has been a massive change for Mehta. As of now, recruiting events and team meetings have nearly been completely in-person, and although there have been some difficulties getting everything set up, she is still enthusiastic and excited for what’s to come this school year.
In regards to working in-person with the team, she said, “It’s been great being able to have brainstorming sessions together and working together. One challenge we’ve had is that since we’re all friends, it’s now very easy to get sidetracked during meetings, but we’re now finding the right cadence for that.”
While Mehta may have missed some aspects of remote schooling, Nick Kim, a fourth-year student double majoring in psychological and brain sciences and philosophy, is absolutely happy to leave everything about remote schooling behind him.
“Being apart from people was difficult. I did not have much of a community at home,” he says. Although Kim is grateful that he was able to form stronger bonds with his family at home, he still missed spending time with his cherished friends.
In contrast with many students who went home and were able to see their hometown friends regularly, all of Kim’s friends either lived very far away or they were still at school, so there was an essential part of his community that was missing. Finally coming back to his friends and his church community on campus, he felt his emotional well-being immediately improve.
In addition to seeing his friends, the full experience of in-person learning has been something that he has been looking forward to.
“I love going to class in-person. There’s some kind of vitality and authenticity an in-person experience has that a computer can’t replicate […] You’ll see a guy next to you in class browsing Reddit, people around you laughing at some shared perception of absurdity, the professors having technical difficulties while the class goofs around […] There’s something so human about all these random little interactions,” he says.
As Kim looks back at the past year, he thinks the only part about virtual classes he’ll miss is not having to wake up early and commute to class, but even then, he does appreciate these experiences and now recognizes the importance of small, daily rituals.
Overall, the general consensus among students seems to be that they’re glad that online schooling is finally over, and there is an air of excitement and new beginnings on campus. Here’s to a brand new school year, and hopefully, the beginning of the end for the pandemic and remote learning.