Local college students had their studies abruptly altered this year, suddenly forced to leave their campuses and return home this spring as universities shut down and switched to remote learning in the wake of the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Leanna “Lulu” Keen had a longer trip home than most. The 21-year-old University of Illinois junior from Brookfield was spending the semester in Barcelona, Spain, on a study abroad program.
Keen, who is double majoring in Spanish and economics, was taking classes at the Universitat de Barcelona and enjoying her first trip to Europe. Her semester was supposed to run from January to June.
By mid-March she had already visited Portugal, Paris and Vienna and was looking forward to trips to Switzerland and Mallorca.
“I loved it. I got to travel a little bit,” Keen said.
But in February as the pandemic hit Italy, she began to realize that her time in Spain could be cut short.
“Once we heard about the whole Italy situation, I honestly knew it was just a matter of time until it reached Spain,” Keen said.
As it turned out, her mother Kathleen and older sister Deanna were visiting Spain in March and came to Barcelona to see Lulu right when she got word that American students were to return home.
They had one long weekend together before flying back home on March 14. Keen managed to snag a seat on the same flight her mother and sister already had booked.
“I had a last weekend with them when basically everything was just hitting Barcelona,” Keen said. “A lot of the metros were like basically like a quarter of the way filled.”
Once in Brookfield, Keen, her mother and sister had to quarantine at home for 14 days. Since there were three of them, her father John, a former member of the Riverside-Brookfield High School District 208 Board of Education, was exiled to the basement.
The two sisters could go out once a day for a run.
“It wasn’t, honestly, too bad,” Keen said of the quarantine. “It seemed kind of long but I found ways to pass time.”
She is continuing her University of Barcelona classes online, but it’s not the same.
“It’s kind of hard to learn a second language when you’re not immersed in the country and surrounded by the teachers talking to you,” Keen said. “It’s a different style of learning. It’s not my favorite, obviously, but I try to make the most of it.”
Samantha Miezio, a 21-year-old Duke University junior from Riverside, also happened to be with her mother and sister when she got the word that she would have to leave the Duke campus.
She was on spring break and her mother and sister were visiting her in Durham, North Carolina. They had just left a restaurant when she got an email from Duke telling students not to come back to campus when spring break ended.
Miezio had already been scheduled to fly home to Chicago with her mother and sister the next day, but suddenly she had to pack a lot more than she had planned to. She didn’t know if she would be returning to Duke this semester or not.
“It was really very stressful,” Miezio said. “I didn’t know how long I would be actually gone for.”
Miezio, a major in urban studies and planning, was doing a primary research comparing William Penn’s plan for Philadelphia and Daniel Burnham’s plan for Chicago. She had 25 books checked out from the Duke library but only took home three of them.
The switch to remote learning was challenging.
“Some of my classes that were more primary source research-based shifted to all online sources. So that was a bit of a challenge, just recognizing that the scope of my research would be much more limited now,” Miezio said.
She missed her friends and the campus environment.
“I was really thriving at Duke because it was such an intense and exciting atmosphere, and I really enjoyed being surrounded by such interesting students who are passionate about their studies,” Miezio said.
Miezio had to add sophisticated mapping software to her laptop computer and she switched all of her classes to pass/fail, an option Duke provided to its students.
Doing her school work from home proved challenging without the physical presence of professors and classmates.
“It’s has been hard to find motivation,” Miezio said. “At school, I’m constantly surrounded by people and now I’m just surrounded by my parents. Luckily my parents are awesome, but I really do miss my friends. I miss the physical presence of people.”
Miezio’s summer plans have also been affected by the pandemic. She had snagged a summer job with a small Boston consulting firm, but now it looks like she won’t be able to go to Boston and may have to work remotely.
When it comes to classes resuming in the fall, Miezio said that she much prefers being on campus. If remote learning is extended into the fall semester, she said she would seriously consider taking the year off from school.
Attending college from home has also been challenging for Anthony Landahl, a Bradley University junior from Brookfield.
“It’s like you’re adjusting to an entirely new school,” said Landahl of the switch to remote learning.
Landahl, 20, a television arts major and journalism minor who has written freelance stories for the Landmark, said that it is hard to do journalism assignments when he can’t go out and interview and film people because of social distancing requirements.
“You have to make do with what you have,” Landahl said. “It’s kind of a challenge to interview your family members or your friends.”
He also misses the late-night bull sessions with friends and finds it harder to get work done at home than when he was at Bradley. His mother and father are both also working at home, so Landahl is spending most of his time in his bedroom, though when the weather is nice he’ll do some work on the porch or in the garage with the garage door open.
“When you come home you kind of lose that focused environment,” Landahl said. “This is the vacation home. You come here when you want to relax. You don’t come here when you want to work hard. You’re working on your essay and then your bed’s right there and it’s one o’clock in the morning. At school you could go the library and get away.”
Bradley is giving students the option of taking classes pass/fail, but Landahl is opting for regular grades.
Landahl is also the managing editor of the Bradley Scout, the university’s newspaper. He is managing to put out an online newspaper while working on his classes.
“We are not producing as much as we want to but, obviously, given the circumstances, we are still producing a decent amount,” Landahl said.
Landahl misses the in-person interaction with professors and fellow students.
“For some classes I don’t mind it, but for my major classes, for journalism and video, you just have to be there in person,” Landahl said. “And I really appreciate in-person conversation and talking with the professor, so I am glad when professors have a video conference. I will say it’s a little more personal.”
Students keep in touch with friends by phone and text. When things get tough, Landahl reminds himself that others are facing the same challenges.
“Sometimes I feel alone in this, but I know that zillions of other kids are going through the same thing. In a way, it is helpful to know that you’re not struggling by yourself,” Landahl said. “However, I’m sure it’s not fun for anyone.”