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Hong ’24 and De Padova ’24: Reflections on First-Year Fall

As the semester comes to a close, The Herald’s two first-year columnists look back on different aspects of their unconventional fall.


De Padova: 

Taking my first college class, a seminar on essay writing, completely online has left me wondering how different my experience was from an in-person one. I found myself even less motivated than I was my last semester of high school when the pandemic first hit. Due to the nature of Zoom, most of the extraneous (but meaningful) social aspects of class ― small talk before lectures, group projects and off-topic discussions ― were replaced with muted microphones and turned-off cameras. 

Because it takes minimal effort to attend class, it’s easy to slowly fall into a routine of taking shortcuts. The pandemic gave us more leniency in terms of due dates and attendance, and I feel like a sloppier student for letting myself take advantage of that. My academic experience this semester was slightly disheartening. I’m now more apprehensive than before about my ability to engage myself in online work.


The fall semester was an exercise in self-discipline and taking initiative. For the one course I took as a first-year, a philosophy class on logic, I only had around six or seven deadlines the entire semester. Consequently, I had the freedom to create my own homework and pre-reading schedule, much the way I pleased. I found the experience liberating — it was a far cry from the rigid homework schedules that my high school teachers would give me. But the fewer the due dates, the more I had to hold myself accountable throughout the weeks, keeping up with self-imposed deadlines.

Besides requiring self-discipline, the online class format emphasized independent study. It took more effort than usual to get homework assistance or discuss class material. But once I made the effort to connect with others — whether that was joining a Zoom study group, talking with my professor online or meeting my TAs — I found that it was not actually hard to engage academically, even in cyberspace. As long as I took the initiative, I “got out what I put in” to my class this semester.

Social and Extracurricular Activities

De Padova: 

I had serious doubts about not only how accessible extracurricular activities would be, but also how they would be any different than a Zoom call for a class. I was pleasantly surprised in almost every way. Many clubs held programs in the fall and dove right into their usual activities as best as they could. The Brown Daily Herald helped me publish a few columns this fall and the Mock Trial team hosted game nights for the team. By holding events virtually and pushing online content, the clubs I became involved in weren’t just biding their time until we came to campus ― they provided meaningful ways for us to engage. Unexpectedly, this semester I had Mock Trial practices to go to and Brown Daily Herald column deadlines to meet. In many ways, my virtual experience with clubs was much better than with online class. When I get to campus, I feel like I will already know a few people.


At the beginning of the semester, I had already accepted that socializing online would be difficult. I didn’t try very hard to make new friends or join Brown social communities — it seemed wise to wait until the spring. Instead, I focused on extracurriculars that mattered to me, which often favored individual work over collaborative efforts. I did a lot of writing.

Throughout the fall, I met several nice peers, but I still had a stunted social experience. Brown did its best to promote various activities that aimed to build community — via the Bruno Beginnings postings, the Activities Fair and the Zoom events advertised in Today@Brown emails, for example. These helped a little, but still felt lacking for a first-year fall experience. I am excited to be in Providence in the spring, and I can’t wait to meet my peers in person.

Looking Forward

De Padova:

This semester went by quickly. I’m happy that, as I move into next semester, I feel more familiar with the structure and expectations of a college class than I did in September. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many upperclassmen, and I think I will be making more informed course selections than I would have otherwise. This semester has given me a chance to establish a baseline expectation for my experience at Brown and it is more positive than I foresaw it being. Things can only get better from here.  Looking forward, it seems that there could realistically be a COVID-19 vaccine in the next six months, which gives me a sense of hope.


Even if many classes, events and social gatherings will still be online, there is no substitute for finally being on campus. I’m excited to live on College Hill, and I wonder how the on-campus atmosphere will transform me. I hope to enjoy Providence and meet inspiring professors and friends. I look forward to my newfound college independence, even during the pandemic. These are all hopes of typical first-year students, I suppose, regardless of which year they entered university.

This first-year fall was less than what many of us had hoped for. Still, I am grateful that I can expect two on-campus semesters this academic year. Perhaps, when the pandemic abates, I’ll find myself enjoying more Brown in-person lectures, concerts, student events and sports games. Until then, I’ll enjoy the socialization that I can have on-campus within the limits of public health measures.

Jaehyun Hong ’24 can be reached at, and Jordan De Padova ’24 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to



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