After rocky start, students on near-empty campus labor to acclimate to strange new college lifestyle

Azmeh Talha

Caitlin Jefferson
Transcript Correspondent

Ohio Wesleyan University, a bustling campus abuzz with college students just a few weeks ago, has pivoted into a near ghost town.

Gone are more than 1,300 enrollees, most of whom have returned home for the remainder of the semester due to the rapidly spreading, highly contagious novel coronavirus.  Only about 50 mostly international students remain, said OWU President Rock Jones.

Jones, in a campus-wide email sent Wednesday, said recent events had created an overwhelming sea change for business as usual.

“We have found ourselves in the midst of a new normal none of us imagined and without a definite end date,” he wrote. “In all my years of higher education, nothing else has so profoundly transformed our institutions and shaken our students experience or the work that (faculty and staff) do.”

At this point, the administration is unsure how long the students living on campus now will remain. Jones said that issue has not been discussed, but will be in the future. He referred additional questions to Brian Emerick, director of Residential Life, who could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, students do their best to carry on in this new and abnormal campus lifestyle.

Sophomore Joy Buraima, from the Ivory Coast in West Africa, said she was given permission to stay until the end of the semester. She is living in the LA CASA Small Living Unit.

“Even if I wanted to go home, I could not as the borders have been closed. It would have been so inconvenient too, as I am meant to be here in the states during the summer for a program,” Buraima said.

Buraima, who said she is trying to stay positive through the pandemic and all the changes it has caused, thinks OWU has done a good job keeping students on campus informed.

“They’ve all expressed their willingness to make things work regardless and have all offered a great deal of support and flexibility,” she said.

At times, Buraima said she has experienced information overload, yet she is still curious about what happens when the semester ends.

“It’s fairly difficult to not get flooded by the plethora of information out there concerning this and other matters of emergency,” she said. “I would like to hear from (OWU) how this will affect other upcoming events meant to be held in the summer. I do understand, though, that nobody has any fixed answers due to the ever-changing nature of this situation.”

Humor has helped her cope with this, at times, frightening situation and she said most of her friends are doing their best to follow the guidelines set by the university.  She’s also thankful for the unwavering support of her parents, who live across the globe.

“I think I’m feeling better every day. It was very rough at first but I’m confident that we can make things work, somehow. It’s all we can do anyway,” Buraima said.

Sophomore Mukami Mboche, from Kenya, said her parents, while far away, are still a big help in keeping her worries in check.

“My parents keep me updated on what is going on at home,” she said. “They help me by keeping me calm about the whole situation and reassuring me that everything will be fine both at home and here as well.”

Mboche is living in Hayes Hall through June, when she will go back to Nairobi, but she worries about travel bans that may still be in place.

“I am extremely nervous … Kenya has set a travel ban,” she said “But I am hopeful that by July this virus will be gone or going and the ban will hopefully be lifted.”

As a fine arts major, remote learning has been a challenge, especially for classes like studio art. But her professors have helped, she said.

“It will challenge me to stay focused on schoolwork and to not get distracted by the comfort of my room and bed,” Mboche said.

Self-isolation is getting to her, but Mboche said she and her friends are taking the pandemic seriously by implementing social distancing.

“We implement social distancing heavily, and only make contact a few times for meals … we stay separated just as a precaution,” she said.

Not all on-campus students are from foreign lands. Senior Ruby Scheckelhoff, from Columbus, has remained and is living in Smith Hall because a family member at home has a compromised immune system.

A big stress for Scheckelhoff is remote learning. She said she feels as though her classwork has been tripled and she has no time on the weekend to prepare for work during the school week.

“This has been incredibly detrimental to my learning to have so much work,” she said. “Professors do not seem to care about a weekend anymore either.”

On top of being overwhelmed with this new learning style, Scheckelhoff has been coping with not being able to finish out her senior year the way she would have liked.

“I definitely took time to be selfishly angry about leaving as a senior,” Scheckelhoff said. “There were people I never had the chance to say goodbye to that I probably won’t see again.”

She said she is following social distancing guidelines and is finding things beside school work to keep her busy while staying in her room.

“I have expanded into the other half of my room and gave myself an office space for school, then I have a room for sleeping and video games, among other things,” she said.

Restricted dining hours in Bishop Café have been an irritating inconvenience, too, but OWU did put an extra $200 into all student’s dining dollars through the end of the semester, she said.

Scheckelhoff tries to find ways to stay active and not be repetitive each day, although it is difficult because of so little human interaction.

“Even being an introvert, it is hard to not see other people,” Scheckelhoff said. “When I open my window, I see no one and it feels dystopian.”

Sophomore Astrid Koek, from the Netherlands, has also struggled at times, but also realizes she is not alone.

“I have good days and bad days and honestly I think I am in no place to complain,” Koek said. “My situation is interesting, but it is no worse or more sad than anyone else’s.”

One of Koek’s Delta Delta Delta sorority sisters let her live at her house until she returns home again. She said she keeps in touch with her family through FaceTime every day.

“I feel like we are creating a strong bond from this situation and my parents are teaching me to see the good in every situation, which I am very grateful for,” Koek said. “I love being home, but I really like being here.”

Friends helped Koek move to the house where she now lives and OWU provided all international students with three boxes and free storage. She misses her people but also feels lucky.

“Seeing all my friends at home with their families made me miss mine more, but I did not want to complain because I am in a privileged situation just being here,” she said. “Being alone right now is somewhat scary, but it also makes me realize how very lucky I am to have certain people in my life and for all the friendliness I have received here.”