Some 60 students sit in a classroom, excitedly chatting amongst themselves, waving pens and opening laptops. All of them are wearing masks, while no seats between them are empty. The professor begins her lecture and with that, the opening term for the freshman class of Georgetown MBAs has begun.
In just a couple of weeks, the rest of the business program will follow suit in this ‘new normal’, as the Georgetown McDonough School of Business summons its students for an in-person fall semester. Naturally there is a palpable level of excitement; for the second years, we’ve only been able to experience our classmates in splintered engagements. A brunch here, a dinner there. There were some parties after vaccinations started rolling out, but none of these things have been able to replace an in-person learning experience. In hand with the anticipation, however, there are many jitters and qualms from the students over this upcoming transition which have been hard to ignore.
Some of them are lighthearted, some are quirky.
“I’m having difficulty shopping for clothes that aren’t athleisure,” one classmate mildly complained in a group text.
“No more playing solitaire or chess in class,” another joked in response.
Others include sadness over no more power naps in between classes; no more opportunities to log into class on a tropical island with a sunny view; no more having Netflix in a corner of your monitor while you try to listen to class; and no more having to dress nicely even from the waist down.
And who knows what ‘dressing nicely’ means anymore?
As for myself, I’ll miss having my small Maltese on my lap in virtual classes lending me comfort. That’s where he is now actually, while I type out this column.
LIFE AND THE PANDEMIC GO ON
The existing threat of COVID-19 is, of course, a sobering concern that remains for many and looks to persist for some time as the Delta variant continues to ravage countries all over the world.
Although the school has been vigilant in its efforts against the spread of COVID-19, that still hasn’t been enough to quell the worries of students who are parents of children for whom the vaccines have not been authorized yet.
“The Delta variant is hands-down the biggest problem for me; it’s been keeping me awake at night. It is very scary,” confided a classmate, a mother of two. “Am I being selfish for wanting to go to school? At first I was excited but it’s getting harder and harder because of the data being released.”
For this fall, everyone on Georgetown’s campus will be required to be vaccinated, mask up indoors, and take an arrival test prior to their return. Buildings have also been retrofitted with ventilation systems according to CDC guidelines.
Then there are other major concerns like time management. MBA programs, especially the one we have at McDonough, require a considerable amount of time to be dedicated to academic studies and training; the lack of a commute was a silver lining for many.
The aforementioned parent now has to commute around two hours one-way in the morning, which she knows will inevitably eat into what precious time she has with her children.
“(I’m) nervous about balancing and prioritizing classwork, networking, club obligations, recruiting, social life and etc.,” said Sajan Bathla, a second year MBA, adding he also has to think about “how to make up for the lost year of in person interactions and networking without overextending myself.”
Simply being in the classroom in person after over a year of virtual learning is physically taxing.
To ease myself into the world of in person classes, I enrolled in a week-long class this summer. Here, I had the option to take it on campus, so I did. After the first class, I felt completely drained, although I had enjoyed myself the entire time.
Two professors who taught opening term classes said they were completely exhausted after the first day: “I went to bed at 8:30,” joked one.
FAREWELL TO ZOOM
Another student worried that she might be judged by others for her physical appearance, particularly height.
“Zoom was the ‘great equalizer’. We won’t have that anymore,” Lizzie Sukut pointed out. “What if people take me less seriously once they see my size?”
Others also fretted over being cold called in class in front of their classmates because (surprise!) more MBA students than you might think are introverts.
“Many people including those loathe to speak up in class liked to use the Zoom chat function,” said Kavya Sankhavaram, a dual degree MBA student. She added she was curious how this function would be replaced in class by the professors (if at all).
When all of these factors are taken into account, it’s natural for some of us find ourselves wishing for an option between in-class instruction and Zoom. But that’s unlikely to be, although the school does accept exemption requests for extraordinary circumstances.
HOMECOMING TO GOOD
McDonough has been trying to make the transition less bumpy. The first years have already attended orientation in person, and the school has hosted happy hours and even invited them to a baseball game ahead of opening term. Second years will be able to socialize en masse at a barbeque party hosted by the school before classes kick off.
These are all joyful things, but the hand sanitizer, Lysol, and sanitizing wipes standing guard in front of classroom doors tell us this is the new normal and things will never be like they were before 2020.
If you can’t avoid it, you might as well enjoy it. When I was visiting my sister and her family over the summer, there was a phrase she would sing to my 3-year-old nephew whenever he refused to eat green beans or carrots: “Try new food because it might taste good”. It would bring a smile to my lips and is a piece of advice I would like to leave my MBA classmates with because this in-person semester might just be that: Good.
Christine Kim (McDonough ’22) is a former Reuters correspondent and communications specialist from Seoul, South Korea. As a journalist, Christine covered issues like North Korea, global financial markets, and central bank rates. She also handled global communications for Samsung Electronics prior to business school and plans to focus on strategy and crisis management post-graduation. In this monthly column, Christine will highlight lesser heard voices and diverse experiences at Georgetown’s MBA program.