Excitement — and apprehension — as MUN students return to campus

·4 min read
In March 2020, Memorial University transitioned to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, students finally returned to campus. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
In March 2020, Memorial University transitioned to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, students finally returned to campus. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Memorial University's main campus in St. John's is once again bustling with students and faculty after more than a year of classes held almost exclusively online.

Excitement and apprehension were both in the air at MUN's main campus Wednesday. Some students were relieved to go back to in-person classes, while others felt nervous about climbing COVID-19 cases in the province.

MUN is requiring all students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated, with some exceptions. Masks are required in all indoor spaces, and in-person class enrolment has been capped at 100. Classes with over 100 students will continue to be taught online.

"We are thrilled to have students back on campus," provost and vice-president (academic) Florentine Strzelczyk in a recent interview with The St. John's Morning Show.

MUN has 19,000 students across five campuses, most at the main campus. Strzelczyk said the university is expecting more than 5,000 students will attend class each day on campus in St. John's, with others attending classes virtually.

Like other institutions, Memorial shut down classes in March 20 as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Canada.

"We realize we have a big responsibility to keep our community safe, and in that transition, we are going to have mixed offerings," she said.

Lizzy Sparling, who is starting her nursing program, said after a year of online learning, it feels great to be back in the classroom.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

"I can't wait to actually have human interaction and be able to ask questions when I have the questions, not have to send an email," she said.

She said she isn't too nervous about the current state of the pandemic because the COVID-19 case numbers in Newfoundland and Labrador are still relatively low. As of Wednesday, there are 40 active cases across the province.

LISTEN | Two Memorial University students discuss their return to campus:

Rheannyn Brockerville-Wall, a fourth-year history student, said she wasn't in favour of the return to in-person classes, and would have liked the option to continue learning entirely online.

"I think that we kind of jumped the gun a little bit. I'm really expecting another wave," she said.

Brockerville-Wall said she liked the way Memorial handled the transition to online learning, and didn't feel ready to come back to in-person classes. However, she said the university's vaccine mandate is helping her feel safer on campus.

"I have asthma, so I am at risk. I got my vaccine as soon as I could and everybody that I know did as well. So it does make me feel safer."

Relief, excitement and nerves

Shaheen Sha, a PhD student in oil and gas engineering, said he missed seeing fellow students and spending time on campus.

He said for international students, who are often living far away from family members, the international community at MUN feels like a family. He said being forced to stay away from campus was "uncomfortable," and he's pleased to be back.

"I really feel happy to see this," he said.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Marziyeh Zare, a process engineering PhD student, was also pleased to be back on campus.

"I just [stayed] at home for two years and it's not good for us. We need to have communication with other people here, you know? "

Zare advised fellow students to get vaccinated, and criticized vaccine misinformation.

"It is your responsibility that you have for other people, not just yourself," she said.

Jarod Hillier, in the second semester of his education degree, said he's feeling relieved to be on campus after finishing his French degree online.

"I'm super thankful to be here and I'm hoping that the pandemic doesn't get bad again," he said.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

Hillier advised other students to continue following public health and university guidelines.

"Like Dr. Janice Fitzgerald was saying, you know, wear your masks, try to social distance if you can, wash your hands. That kind of stuff," he said.

Jingxi Huang recently moved to Newfoundland and Labrador and is beginning her first year of graduate studies in applied statistics.

Darrell Roberts/CBC
Darrell Roberts/CBC

She said she's still adjusting to her new — and often chilly — environment, but she's already made friends in her university residence.

"I'm excited, but then scared at the same time," she said.

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