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In their own words: Students reflect on an extraordinary year

The COVID-19 pandemic upended Duke students' college experience. As part of our one-year retrospective, we asked them about the last year and how it's affected them.

Here's what students had to say about an extraordinary year.

"I was a little bit frantic. I didn't know what to do next ... But then I was quite—it took them a few days to really get the hang of things as well, like the administration, you know, and make a bunch of decisions. But I also felt grateful that the international community at Duke still has been very strong." -Sophomore Qi Xuan Khoo on the early days of the pandemic

"Senior year, obviously nobody expected it to be like this. I expected to be tenting in K-Ville for the last time, I expected to be out on the BC plaza, out in the Chapel just running into people and having those conversations that you would miss after your time at Duke. But the sweet aspect is, you get to have close connections with those in your immediate bubble. Especially as seniors you do find that core group that you end your time at Duke with and you want to end your time here with. And so this kind of helped reinforce that, in terms of those friendships. -Senior Tommy Hessel on a strange end to his time at Duke

"We're never going to experience Marketplace when it's normal, or have these big events on East Campus, or even go to Baldwin Auditorium. Even O-Week, we're never going to experience anything like that. And those are things that will affect how we think about Duke in the future, and affect the memories we have. But I think that we will definitely be the most appreciative, because we will be right there with the freshmen next year experiencing so many things for the first time." -First-year Reeva Kandel on coming to Duke this year

"As a junior, I decided to stay home for the fall semester, because I thought Duke's decision was way last-minute when they canceled junior housing on campus and I didn't think I had time to find a viable living option for the fall semester. Apartments would have been too expensive, and I didn't have time to organize something with roommates. My parents also very much wanted me home because they were unsure how campus was going to be in light of COVID. I decided to stay home for the semester and did part-time." -Junior Andrew Witte

"I think I've seen myself become a little more self-reliant. I think I'm more confident in my ability to do things, but I also know my boundaries a lot more. I think before COVID I was like, 'Oh, I can do it all, I can balance school and like 20 different extracurriculars and I can get out of it unscathed.' I realize now that that's not the case, because the pandemic had a pretty big toll on my mental health, on me feeling isolated and lonely. I also felt myself feeling angry—perpetually really really angry a lot of the time, especially when I would see fellow students doing some really unsafe things and not really questioning it or, like, doing things that were just very exemplary of a different world they were living in." -Sophomore Lily Levin on how the pandemic affected her personally

"I've been more productive. It wouldn't have happened without that transition. [A team I worked on] spanned across four countries, three different time zones, and it was entirely remote. I did not meet a single person ... That to me was quite motivating in some ways, but at the same time surprising because it speaks volumes about how people are adapting to virtual work and collaboration." - Qi

"I think this whole experience has really shown a few areas of strength about the Duke community. The first is how resilient we have been, because I feel the way they're handling things, especially—I didn't come back last semester, but I've heard things from my friends who came back last semester and I was already quite impressed with the speed at at which they managed to ... put together a team to handle entry testing to keep everyone safe on campus. And so testing twice a week, that was actually for me, personally, very mind-blowing." -Qi 

Editor's Note: Lily Levin is a columnist for The Chronicle. 

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