My Grand Homecoming Amid a Pandemic

After doing three weeks of virtual learning, I was finally back in the Blair bubble. Although there are a lot of uncertainties and precautions being taken surrounding the current circumstances, I cannot express how glad I am to be sitting on the green grass, soaking in the sunshine while writing for The Oracle or doing a cappella arrangements with my peers.

The first week of school was not that terrible since everyone was doing virtual learning, although it definitely did not live up to the in-person spirit and atmosphere. My brother, Joon Park ’24, a freshman this year, noted that “it was weird to start off at a new school with virtual classes because we don’t get to socialize or interact outside of class.” For returners, this wasn’t too new or strange since Blair had been virtual learning since the end of spring break; regardless, it wasn’t the ideal way to start off the year. As senior Mollie Sysler ’21 stated, it was still “difficult because my friend was in the room right next to me but I had to see her face through a screen.”

Students gradually started to transition into the classroom during the second week, but day students and distance learners could still only see their classmates’ tiny faces through a sometimes-malfunctioning “Owl.” We often encountered various technical difficulties: the “Owl” that was supposed to rotate to whoever was talking or making a sound did not, the teacher’s screen would suddenly freeze and he or she would leave the Google Meet, or someone’s mic would not work. Needless to say, it was challenging for both teachers and students to adjust to the new norm and incorporate new technology.

This is a screenshot of what it looks like to be “in class” through the lens of the Owl. The Owl is a video conferencing camera that rotates 360°to show the whole room and turns toward whoever is talking or making a sound. It is being used to support schools and workplaces as they switch to a virtual or a hybrid model.

I felt more alienated by Week 3 of distance learning because by then almost everyone was in class in person except for me. It was awkward having only my face projected on a giant screen in front of the whole class, and it felt like all eyes were on me, scrutinizing my every move, even if they weren’t. Even though my teachers and classmates tried their best to include me in discussions and activities, I could not chime in and participate as freely as I would in-person, and I felt literally “distant.”

I’m more than glad to be back on campus, taking my classes in person and spending time with my friends and peers. I was also happy to hear that my brother shared similar sentiments with me: “I think it was a good decision to come to Blair this fall despite the current situation because if we stayed in Korea, I wouldn’t have been able to interact with my peers outside of class times or get to know anyone and have the Blair experience.”

Although I rarely run into people on the pathways like I’m used to, and I don’t get to feel the whole school’s energy during School Meetings, I am so appreciative of everyone at Blair. That’s especially true of the faculty and the cleaning, dining hall, maintenance, and security teams who are working together to keep the campus open and running smoothly. The dorms have been looking way less cluttered and squeaky clean thanks to the cleaning staff who work day and night to implement the new COVID protocols. Further, the daily temperature and health check through the kiosks and the app, paired with the weekly COVID tests have helped ensure that everyone on campus stays healthy and allowed the school to respond quickly when a student tested positive. I hope that this pandemic will go away along with 2020 and that we can swiftly return to normal. The silver lining throughout all this is that we got so lucky with the beautiful fall weather with more time spent outside with our friends and peers and everyone has grown much more appreciative of our typical everyday lives.

Jenna Park

JENNA PARK IS A THREE-YEAR JUNIOR AT BLAIR ACADEMY AND A WRITER FOR THE ORACLE. SHE ENJOYS READING, WRITING, SPORTS, AND LOVES MUSIC, ESPECIALLY SINGING. SHE HOPES TO BE A CONTRIBUTING MEMBER OF THE ORACLE AND DELIVER NEWS ON A RANGE OF DIVERSE TOPICS FOR THE BLAIR COMMUNITY.