‘A different lifestyle’: Students navigate a semester at home

By Elizabeth Primrose, For The Pitt News

Some students, such as Nish Rajkanth, are currently living in their childhood bedrooms rather than a cramped dorm room. Rajkanth, who is currently in South Brunswick, New Jersey, said taking college classes from home sometimes feels like she’s back in high school.

“It is a different lifestyle that can often feel like you’re reverting back to high school rather than being a college student,” Rajkanth, a junior biological science major, said. “But I think I’ve gotten the hang of it now and it has been helpful in many ways.”

Rajkanth is one of many Pitt students who decided to take their classes at home under the new Flex@Pitt teaching model, which allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously.” This model will continue into the spring semester as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and the spring will have an adjusted schedule.

Rajkanth said she was disappointed at first after deciding to stay home, but she had other concerns about returning to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It seemed like a rip-off because I wouldn’t be able to have a proper college experience, yet I was being expected to pay full tuition,” Rajkanth said. “I am a very anxious person, and I think that being on campus would have made me extremely paranoid about being exposed to coronavirus.”

The University has had 311 students and 32 employees test positive since June 26, with 295 students and 31 employees recovered thus far. One of the last seven days have seen no new positive cases, according to data reported by Pitt.

Rajkanth added that it’s also been hard to connect with students in the South Brunswick area.

“Being on a city campus, you are a five-minute walk away from meeting any of your friends,” Rajkanth said. “When you are home and live in a suburb, it’s not that accessible to see your friends very frequently.”

Pranavi Indukuri, a sophomore political science major, is also taking classes from her bedroom in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, located about 20 minutes west of Harrisburg. Indukuri said since she could complete her classes and research remotely, she did not see a point in going to campus, although she initially felt uneasy about the decision.

“My parents and I talked about it and decided it was the best decision for me to stay home,” Indukuri said. “In the beginning I was kind of iffy about it because I didn’t really like Zoom during the spring semester.”

Indukuri said issues she faced during the spring semester contributed to her hesitancy in deciding to stay home.

“I had trouble connecting with teachers during the spring semester,” Indukuri said. “I wasn’t really sure if I could adapt to it.”

Other students are living in an entirely different time zone, such as Zhen Wu, a sophomore computer science major, who is in China. Wu said she believes staying home was right for her, despite concerns about the time difference.

“At first, I felt like it was better for me,” Wu said. “However, when I thought about the time zone difference, I got pretty stressed.”

For students living at home, the lack of interaction with friends is one the biggest challenges. Many students are relying on virtual socializing through clubs or other organizations.

Wu said two organizations she is a member of — Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society and Lambda Sigma Honor Society — often have virtual social events and general body meetings. Wu said the virtual activities provide a way to meet new people while living at home.

“We have social events online and GBM often,” Wu said. “Playing games and discussing schoolwork are good ways to build relationships.”

Pitt Program Council is also offering virtual events for students to socialize and stay connected. Danielle Moss, PPC’s public relations director, said all of Pitt Program Council’s events such as concerts, lectures, game night, bingo night and craft workshops are designed for every student, regardless of where they’re currently living.

“We keep in mind the fact that people aren’t on campus,” Moss, a senior neuroscience major, said. “We make sure all of our events can be done remotely.”

Even though Pitt Program Council offers these events, Moss said not all students are aware they exist. She added that students gained interest in events in prior years through seeing flyers around campus or through other events.

“It has been hard to reach out to first-year students and students who are home,” Moss said. “If they weren’t already following us on social media, we’ve had to try and go to them.”

Along with struggling to interact with their peers, some students said it’s also hard to connect with professors while at home. Due to the 12-hour time difference between Pittsburgh and her home in China, Wu said she often has issues emailing her professors and attending office hours, as they usually occur late at night in her time zone.

“Due to the time zone difference, communication can take days to get things solved,” Wu said.

Wu said while the time zone difference has its setbacks, it does have certain benefits, such as the extra time she has to finish her work.

“I like to finish my work ahead of time,” Wu said. “I have 12 extra hours to do my work.”

Rajkanth also said she’s found certain benefits through this learning style, such as a more focused academic environment at home because she isn’t able to see her friends.

 “It helps me focus on my work rather than getting distracted super easily by being around my friends all the time,” Rajkanth said. “I personally get a lot of social anxiety and being at home has helped me not feel so anxious.”

Rajkanth added that while the unexpected nature of taking college courses from her childhood home has had its obstacles, she still tries to make the most out of the situation.

“It is definitely not what I expected, so there is some disappointment that comes with that,” Rajkanth said. “But I’ve been trying to make the most of it because it’s a privilege to even have access to education.”