SEOUL, July 29 (Korea Bizwire) — When it comes to college students, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt hardest by freshmen and sophomores — some of whom have never met their classmates, let alone gone to a school festival.
One 20-year-old student at Incheon National University, west of Seoul, said he has visited the campus a handful of times in the three semesters that he has been enrolled there.
“I’m in my second year and I’ve hardly ever been to school, so I don’t have any friends that I’m comfortable around,” the student surnamed Lee said.
“I mostly take online classes from home, so I can’t even imagine the kind of campus life where people from the same department hang out.
“The feeling of helplessness that comes from being isolated grows with time,” he said.
Before COVID-19, college freshmen often began their university careers by attending various orientation programs, including get-togethers with older students, overnight trips and club activities, many of which involved binge-drinking.
Since the pandemic hit, however, most classes have gone online and all other activities have come to a halt, leaving many students distraught over the loss of a college life they once dreamed of.
“I wanted to enjoy college festivals as much as possible, but the reality is that I’ve never even been to my school,” said a 21-year-old student, surnamed Jang, of Kyung Hee University in Seoul.
“I’ve signed up for clubs and societies, but with the many constraints on participating on a regular basis, I feel like a ‘ghost member,’” he said.
Despite hopes that the situation would improve, the country has recently experienced a surge of COVID-19 infections amid the fast spread of the delta variant.
Earlier this month, the government raised its social distancing guidelines for the capital area to the strictest Level 4, casting doubts on whether universities will be able to resume in-person classes during the new semester starting September.
Seoul National University decided this week to reverse its earlier plan for in-person classes in the second semester and conduct all classes online during the month of September.
After that, the university plans to adjust its class format depending on the social distancing level in place at the time.
Given the uncertainties, a Hongik University student surnamed Kim said she has decided to focus on her grades for now.
“I have to find my own answers, because, under the current circumstances, it’s hard to seek advice from other students or share our concerns,” the 19-year-old said. “My goal now is to get as high marks as possible while taking online classes.”
Another student at Soongsil University said it made her sad that her dreams for college life have been unfulfilled.
“But I feel nervous about just sitting on my hands,” the 21-year-old said. “I was originally thinking of taking a year off to study for the certified public accountant exam, but now I plan to do it while also taking online classes.”