COVID@College: Jingwen from Vanderbilt University

By Selin Tukel, Tracy Huang, and Teehan McGinness Posted March 11th, 2021

Selin Tukel

A Note from the Blog Creator:

As a college student myself during unprecedented times like these, I found that my whole life at my university has changed drastically due to COVID-19. Though I was experiencing so many changes, I was curious as to what other students across the nation were experiencing as well. I sought out to learn about other students at their respective universities, and how my transition to college during COVID-19 compared to theirs. As I continued these conversations, I thought that they should not just stop here, but should be shared across the nation. I wanted to give college students from all over the opportunity to share their stories with anyone who’s willing to listen. This blog series is a pure and unfiltered version of “COVID@College.”

Note from the Interviewer:

Tracy Huang

Since I am a college student myself whose life was drastically altered by COVID, I was extremely interested in talking to other college students and learning about their diverse experiences amidst the pandemic. I hope that reading the stories of college students from all over the country will provide you with different perspectives on how people are balancing COVID with university life, as well as solace that we are all facing these unique changes and challenges together.

Teehan McGinness

A Note from the Video Editor:

As plans for college this fall semester moved completely remote at my school, I was excited to hear about the variety of experiences people are having at different universities. Individuals sharing their experiences through stories and virtual interactions provided a rich glimpse into what it means to be a student in higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope this blog provides the same ease to you as we all still navigate what being a student during this time means, and we continue sharing our own stories.

Video by Teehan McGinness

What is your name, university, and year?

“Hi, I’m Jingwen Zhang, and I go to Vanderbilt University. I’m a freshman.

What course of action has your university chosen to take regarding COVID-19? How do you feel about this?

“As of right now, we have hybrid classes for some, and some people have totally remote classes. I have a mix of both, so there are some days where I go into class and some days where everything I learn is online. In terms of controlling the spread [of COVID] among the community, Vandy has a policy of twice a week testing, and if you test positive, they’ll take you and they’ll ask you who you’ve been in contact within the past two days. And then you can get contact-traced and placed into quarantine housing for ten days, and if you’re negative at the end of the ten days, they’ll release you. That’s how they’re handling COVID.”

Do you personally agree with this stance?

“I feel like Vanderbilt is definitely trying their best to give us a college experience during COVID, which can be really difficult. I also feel like they’re doing a really great job of protecting their professors, because in every lecture I go to, there’s a glass pane in between the professors and us, and I just feel like they’re [Vanderbilt] really trying for us.”

“Vanderbilt is definitely trying their best to give us a college experience during COVID.”

What is your living situation at your university? On-campus, off-campus, staying at home? What are the safety precautions being implemented?

“All the freshmen don’t have roommates. We’re all essentially either in double or single rooms, but everyone lives on their own. In terms of food, we just go to the dining halls, and they don’t have open seating. Our common rooms are really strictly regulated too, to make sure that we don’t have gatherings there. They also have the policy of no one being allowed in your room. Even if it’s literally just one other person, they’re not okay with it. Masks must be worn at all times outside of your dorm unless you’re eating or drinking.”

How has this transition impacted your educational career? (Online, limited in-person classrooms, etc.) Will this impact your track to graduation and how has using online learning changed your educational experience? How do you feel about this?

I think that’s such an interesting question, actually, because a lot of my lectures online are the bigger-sized lectures, so when it’s a class of like two hundred (I think that is one of our biggest classes we get), and it’s chemistry and it’s online, it’s really hard to get the same feel as if you were in a classroom. Even I notice it in my hybrid classes; I’m much more focused when I’m allowed to go to lectures and sit in the lecture halls, and actually see my professor and take notes. When I’m just in my dorm, I’m like, ‘Okay, a class is at 8, well, I’m going to wake up at 7:50.’ And by 8, I will be sitting at my screen, not super awake, not super focused at all, and sometimes will even be a little off-task, because it’s just so hard treating the actual Zoom classes like I’m in a classroom setting. So it’s much easier to learn in person. And it’s really tough, given that the transition from high school to college in itself is a challenge. And so having to combat that with my first semester…I actually changed my major. I don’t know if it’s because of COVID, or if it’s because of interest, but I ended up going from biology to economics. I thought that was really interesting to think about, like, if it was because of COVID and online classes that I just didn’t like the subject, or if I just don’t like the subject in general, or if I don’t like it when it’s on Zoom.

“The most important thing during this pandemic is mental health and just emotional wellness.”

Campus of Vanderbilt Unversity in Nashville, Tennessee.

What has been the most difficult aspect of your school’s transition?

“I think it’s definitely, like, on top of online learning, you’re set in a whole new atmosphere with a bunch of new people and no one knows anyone, so it’s definitely the social scene that’s really hard to navigate. It’s really tough to meet people; in terms of just the people in your hall, they’re pretty easy to meet because they’re in your hall. But if you don’t have classes in person, you can’t just meet a friend walking to class like in a more traditional first-semester setting. And of course, online learning has been a challenge, sort of just treating it like school and not like a podcast that I’m listening to.”

How has COVID-19 impacted you/your family’s financial situation?

“I’m not really sure. I guess it’s just been a lot more of being more careful. If we’re going to go to the grocery store, we’re going to go once a month if we can minimize it. Probably just spending more on that one trip than if we were to take a few trips. So I feel like that’s been the toughest part, and I know that we’re so incredibly blessed to have that be our biggest problem.”

How has COVID-19 impacted your friendships/social life at school? Extracurriculars?

“It’s definitely been tougher than normal years meeting people because we can’t really gather under Vanderbilt guidelines. In terms of extracurriculars, it’s hard to know what you’re really getting into when you join a club or an organization because everything is on Zoom. So you don’t really know what it’s like in a traditional setting, and you don’t really get the full feel of the club; Zoom meetings can only do so much. It’s been really interesting to think about what I would have joined if it was in-person versus just on Zoom.

Do you see the situation at your university changing in the near future?

“Since the vaccinations are being rolled out and I think Tennessee is one of the states that has been quicker in vaccine distribution, if we could all get vaccinated somehow, I think that maybe we do have a shot at, maybe not completely normal life in the fall, but maybe a shot at something a little bit more normal than what we have today. I know that a lot of other schools did roommates, and I thought it was really interesting how Vanderbilt chose to have us live in singles and prioritize the freshmen over the sophomores, juniors, and seniors who all live off-campus.

“Growing up during a pandemic, learning during a pandemic…give yourself grace.”

What would you recommend for students who are struggling to adjust to this new educational experience? Do you have any other personal stories you would like to share?

I would say the best thing to do is to set a schedule. Like, make a physical list of what you want to achieve everyday. Plan a wake-up time and genuinely stick to it. Because sometimes I’m like, “I don’t have class until eleven on Tuesdays and Thursdays” (typically I wake up at eight, so that I can be up-and-functioning and working by nine). So some days I’ll just be like, “It’s fine, I can just wake up at ten and I’ll just be in class by eleven,” and that throws you off so bad, and you just have to pick a schedule and stick to it. And I think the most important thing during this pandemic is mental health and just emotional wellness. I think it’s really important to take pieces of your day and do things that you like. To give yourself five minutes. To give yourself grace during this transition because life isn’t normal, and there’s no point in pretending that it’s normal because it’s genuinely not. Growing up during a pandemic, learning during a pandemic…give yourself grace.”

If you are interested in sharing your story, please contact Selin Tukel ( for more details.