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Across the World, Harvard Students Log onto Zoom for First Day of Spring Semester

Tercentenary Theatre, usually bustling with activity on the first day of classes, was relatively empty when classes began for the 2021 spring semester.
Tercentenary Theatre, usually bustling with activity on the first day of classes, was relatively empty when classes began for the 2021 spring semester. By Jeromel Dela Rosa Lara
By Emmy M. Cho and Isabella B. Cho, Crimson Staff Writers

While Giulia F. Mazzarelli ’24 logged onto Italian 11: “Parliamo Italiano! The Art & Craft of Italy” from her bedroom in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Jessica A. Boutchie ’21 ushered in her final semester of classes from her dorm room in Mather House. Across the Pacific, Charlie J. Yang ’24 attended Freshman Seminar 43J: “The Economist’s View of the World” at 2:30 a.m. local time in Sydney, Australia.

Despite being scattered across the globe, all enrolled Harvard students faced the same experience Monday — the start of the spring semester.

Students who lived at the College before the Covid-19 pandemic said beginning another semester of remote classes came with a unique set of challenges, but that they had grown accustomed.

Boutchie, who attended her morning class Russian BAb: “Intensive Intermediate Russian” from her Harvard dorm, said her final first day of a semester at the College went far differently from how she envisioned before the pandemic.

“It’s not how I expected my last first day of undergrad to go,” she said. “You go to your classes all from the same room, so there’s no awkward shuffling between classes on the first day, trying to find the best path to get from one place to another.”

Though Mazzarelli said she likes to stay positive, she also said studying from home can be isolating.

“This is school without interaction. You take away the contact with people — I love talking to people, I’m a social person,” she said. “Every day I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel like a robot’ because I work, eat, sleep, and then repeat. And it’s just the same thing over and over again because especially where I live, we’re still pretty locked down.”

To combat the isolation, students living with friends found ways to connect and collaborate.

Cynthia Chen ’24, who is living with friends in Cambridge, attended the course Computer Science 124: “Data Structures and Algorithms” with several of her roommates.

“We were all watching it together at the kitchen table,” she said. “I think it’s nicer watching with friends because it simulates some of the little things that might happen in an in-person setting. For example, if the teacher says something we don’t really understand, we’ll discuss it on the side. Also, I think it’s just more fun to watch it with friends.”

“I’ve heard the class is quite difficult, but I’m also pretty excited for the challenge of the class,” Chen added.

Yang, who said he met other international freshmen over Zoom last semester, added that he feels more confident as he resumes online learning at Harvard.

“I would actually say that I’m generally a bit more confident about this semester. Especially with the first semester, there were just so many unknowns — it was hard to get used to all the different programs and opportunities that Harvard offers,” he said. “I think that familiarity and the confidence that you have some people you know, some friends that you’ve made over Zoom is really cool.”

Yang also said he has adjusted to taking classes at odd hours of the day.

“I had a decent class at 8 a.m., which is pretty good. But then the rest of the classes are at 2:30 a.m., or something like that, so I’m probably watching recordings for that,” he said. “Which isn’t ideal, I guess I’m used to it already so it hasn’t been too bad.”

Halle C. Clottey ’23, who is living in Quincy House this semester, said the chat function on Zoom enabled people to connect despite being far away from each other.

“A lot of people were using the chat functionality, typing up all these different jokes that related to the class,” she said. “I think just being able to read through all of that, and seeing where everybody’s heads were at and looking at their reactions really built a nice community for the first day of class.”

—Staff writer Emmy M. Cho can be reached at emmy.cho@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Isabella B. Cho can be reached at isabella.cho@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @izbcho.

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