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Episode 26: The COVID College Experience

Transmission.png
Adrian Florez
/
KNKX

College, in the minds of many incoming freshmen, is about so much more than education. It’s supposed to be a formative experience that creates lifelong memories and lifelong friendships, an adventure that sets the stage for the rest of your life.

But what if your freshman year coincides with a pandemic?

That’s the case for those who graduated high school a few months ago. KNKX’s podcast Transmission, in partnership with KNKX’s Take The Mic series, talked with recent high school graduates about adjusting their expectations and plans, navigating coronavirus-related roommate disputes, and inventing ways to make friends — and occasionally find a little trouble — in a year of crisis.

Ukweli Bayard planned to be at the University of Washington this fall. Instead, he’s living in Tacoma with his parents, his 5-year-old sister, and his 2-year-old brother. He decided to delay college until the pandemic is over.

“At the beginning of the school year I felt like I was missing out,” said Bayard, 18. “Seeing and hearing my friends moving into the dorms and joining frats and meeting new people and stuff. But at this point in time I’m pretty happy with my decision, just seeing how COVID has affected the social lives of college students, and how they’re not really allowed to interact with people as they would in a normal year.”

One of those friends is Joshua Piatok, a freshman at Northeastern University who’s majoring in bioengineering. Instead of spending his first semester in London, as he had planned, he’s living in a Boston hotel full of other science, technology, engineering and math students.

Some of them have bonded during days and nights wandering around a partially locked-down Boston, riding the transit system, riding bikes and buying food late at night. On one such excursion, he watched police officers chase what appeared to be “a crowd of drunk kids running across a field.”

“Even though there’s supposed to be these COVID restrictions, kids find a way,” said Piatok, 18. “They find a way to socialize. They find a way to hang out. They find a way to party, even if it’s just in a dark field at midnight in Boston.”

Meanwhile, in Seattle, one of their former classmates, Aliyah Recasner, has taken to walking the halls with a mask on, hoping to meet people. She’s living in a University of Washington dorm as she takes classes online.

“I meet a few people throughout the day, but when I see them the next day, they may not remember me, or I may not remember them,” said Recasner, 18. “It’s so hard to socialize with masks on. I mean, I’m no ‘Karen,’ and I completely agree with wearing masks everywhere, because it’s saving lives. But I do think it’s hard to have that connection with new people when the only feature of yours I can see is your eyes.”

Listen to the full episode of Transmission above for the story of how these students are navigating an unprecedented freshman year. The episode was produced by Jennifer Wing, Ukweli Bayard, Joshua Piatok, and Aliyah Recasner.