After spending over a year at home, some Northwestern students look toward an in-person fall


File illustration by Emma Ruck

Some NU students who have spent over a year at home will return to Evanston in the fall.

Rayna Song, Senior Staffer

While many Northwestern students returned to campus throughout the past year, some have remained home, watching in-person activities and the excitement of college life resume from afar. But this fall, that will change.

NU’s campus first shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19, forcing the vast majority of students to return home to their families. With most in-person instruction on hold throughout the 2020-21 academic year, some students haven’t been back to Northwestern for over a year — and others have never set foot on campus.

Communication junior Mandy Chen returned to China in May 2020, and has stayed there since. Chen took classes remotely for three quarters before she decided to take a quarter off in Spring 2021.

“It is tough to study remotely,” Chen said. “It’s hard to feel connections with my classmates and professors, and I definitely feel like school isn’t such a big part of my life anymore.”

Due to the travel ban between China and the United States, which required her to spend two weeks in a third country before traveling to Chicago, Chen said the best decision was for her to stay home. She also knew if she left, she would not be able to return to China for an extended period of time because of travel restrictions, she said.

Chen said she is excited, but intimidated, to return to Evanston in the fall because she is already used to her life back home, having spent over a year in her home country.

McCormick sophomore Kevin Li, who is from Vancouver, Canada, said he has never been to Northwestern’s campus — or even Chicago — and is excited to come in the fall. 

“I have been studying remotely in China this year, which means that there was a significant time difference,” Li said. “After hearing that the Fall Quarter was going to be remote, I made the decision of traveling back to China from Vancouver to visit my family.”

Li said he thought the pandemic was a great opportunity to spend time with relatives whom he hasn’t seen in many years. He said he is looking forward to being on campus, where he can participate in the campus social life and extracurricular activities.

But the excitement for an in-person fall isn’t universal. The last time McCormick senior Devin Shen was on campus was in March 2020, and he has been at home in Hayward, Calif. since. He said he doesn’t feel safe returning to Evanston in the fall due to COVID-19 variants and some students not being vaccinated.

“Chicago recently announced to reopen, and Northwestern allows vaccinated people to not wear masks indoors,” Shen said. “We cannot foresee what would happen this fall with students from around the world congregating in a small lecture hall or discussion room, talking with masks off.” 

If hybrid classes are available in the fall, Shen said he will likely stay home in California, but if in-person attendance is required, he will likely return to Evanston. 

He added studying remotely has been better for his mental health due to the ability to “eat, sleep and learn whenever and wherever (he) wanted” and because of the nicer weather in California.

“Now that the pandemic has made everyone — students, professors, staff — familiar with Zoom, I really hope from the bottom of my heart that winter quarters at Northwestern can be taken remotely or at least in a hybrid format,” Shen said.

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @RaynaYu_Song 

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