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‘It’s in everyone’s best interest to make this go well’

Clockwise from top left, Junho Park, Ece Bapcum, Seamus McAvoy and roommates Leah Sheridan and Catrina Whitman. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

As some students moved into dorms on the Boston campus, others moved into their off-campus housing in the surrounding neighborhoods. These students are navigating life off campus, which means making new routines and taking seriously their responsibility to promote the safety of the Northeastern community. Here are a few of their stories.

Seamus McAvoy

As he looked out over the Boston skyline from atop the fifth floor of his Mission Hill apartment, McAvoy said it still feels all too surreal. He had just moved in after spending the previous five months living with his parents at their home in the semi-rural northeast corner of Connecticut—“a place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by trees and birds,” and known by locals as the “quiet corner,” McAvoy says.

McAvoy, a fifth-year student of journalism who transferred from University of California San Diego, says he had just started to feel at home on the Boston campus—spending his hours reading on the grass at Centennial Common, studying in the library, or taking a break at the various coffee shops around campus—when the pandemic forced Northeastern to switch to remote learning.

McAvoy says it felt like his world flipped upside down when the Boston campus closed in March—his plans to work on co-op in Belgium at The Brussels Times were abruptly canceled as travel restrictions were put in place. 

Seamus McAvoy. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

“I’ve always wanted to live abroad for an extended amount of time, and to do that with a connection to journalism, that would’ve been the best professional experience I’ve had to this point,” McAvoy says.

McAvoy felt like he was in limbo, unsure of what his plans for the fall were. When Northeastern announced its plans for reopening the Boston campus in the fall, and introduced Hybrid NUFlex, McAvoy said he was skeptical at first. But as Northeastern provided more details on its testing operations, and showed the resources that the university is investing to promote the health and safety of the Boston campus, McAvoy felt reassured, and made plans to return for in-person learning for the fall.

Since returning to Boston, and getting tested at the Cabot Physical Education Center, McAvoy says he feels safe on campus and is optimistic about the fall reopening—so long as everyone takes the necessary precautions.

“I think if any school is going to be able to do it, it will be Northeastern,” McAvoy says. “The resources that they’re dedicating to make the campuses as safe as possible are admirable, and the testing regimen lines up with what medical professionals suggest. That puts us in a good spot, I think, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to make this go well.”

Ece Bapcum

In the mornings, Bapcum goes for walks around Mission Hill, and greets her neighbors along the way. It’s part of the new routine she’s developed since March, when she moved off-campus in response to Northeastern closing its campuses to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 

Bapcum says she has enjoyed this past summer despite the notably empty streets of a usually thriving city. To pass the time in quarantine, she started cooking more often, and picked up a new hobby—Animal Crossing, an online video game that has been the preferred escape for many at home during the pandemic.

Ece Bapcum. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

And since Northeastern announced its reopening in June, Bapcum has been spending time on and around the Boston campus. She says she’s been able to witness the transformation of campus to promote the health and safety of the students on and off campus. 

“I feel like they’ve been working hard and diligently. I’ve been spending time on campus, like sitting on Centennial, and so far, everyone wears a mask, and abides by distancing protocols,” says Bapcum, who’s studying behavioral neuroscience. “The university is doing all that it can, but it just now depends on the students.”

Bapcum stresses that students, just like the university, need to do their part in preventing coronavirus outbreaks, and that an outbreak could disproportionately affect students with complex living or financial situations, as well as the many faculty and staff that make up the Boston campus.

“I don’t think it’s an extra responsibility for students—this is the type of care that should be taken anyway,” says Bapcum, a native of Long Island, New York. “Students can sacrifice that morsel of social life to just make this go by as easily as we can.”

Junho Park

Park, like McAvoy, had just begun to feel adjusted to student life in Boston before the pandemic pulled the rug out from underneath his feet. 

He was back on the Boston campus after spending the past two years training in the South Korean military, which is a legal requirement for healthy male citizens between the ages of 18 to 28. Park, a computer science student, says he was happy to be back to see old friends, and resume life as a student before the pandemic derailed those plans.

Junho Park. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Instead, in a matter of days, Park found himself adapting to online education, and monitoring the situation both back home in South Korea and stateside—situations that he struggled to manage, he says. Park says he thought long and hard about returning to South Korea, especially as coronavirus infections surged in the U.S. 

A summer internship convinced him to stay in Boston over the summer, and he’s now enrolled in online classes for the fall. Park says he’s still cautiously skeptical about the reopening, but is more optimistic after seeing the campus testing operation for himself. Lately, he says he’s been thinking about the individual responsibilities of each student to promote the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff on the Boston campus.

“I think to keep what we have, people need to keep wearing masks, especially when they’re on campus, and keep their distance,” Park says. “Let’s appreciate what we have before we lose it because once we cross the line, we will lose everything.”

Although this semester won’t be like any before it, Park is optimistic that students can find new ways to have fun and replicate the traditional aspects of the college experience in a safe manner.

“Sure, it won’t be the same,” Park says. “But we can find different ways to socialize and be a college student.”

Catrina Whitman and Leah Sheridan

Whitman and Sheridan have been friends since their first day as Northeastern students, when they met 10,000 miles from the Boston campus in Sydney, as part of the university’s N.U.in Program. This semester, they say, is not what their freshmen selves would have pictured for their senior year. 

Yet, after seeing Northeastern’s testing operations for themselves, and stepping back on campus, Whitman and Sheridan describe themselves as “cautiously optimistic” for the semester ahead. 

Roommates Catrina Whitman, left, and Leah Sheridan. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

“It seems like they have a good system in place,” says Whitman, who is studying international affairs. “I’m definitely more convinced than before. Compared to what I hear from friends at other schools, it definitely seems like Northeastern is handling this better.”

Whitman, who recently had major knee realignment surgery, says she feels safer on and around campus than she would in her Maryland home because of the university’s efficient testing operation, which is designed to produce results within 24 hours.

“I feel like it’s the safest option for me as I’ll be in my own space, and I’ll have access to fast tests,” says Whitman “Also, I’ll be closer to hospitals while still being close enough to family. And the fact that I have my own apartment with Leah, someone I’m really good friends with, that’s ideal for me.”

When cases of COVID-19 surged in New York City in March, Sheridan, a native of the city by way of Queens, was thousands of miles away on co-op in Bangalore, India. She recalls the stress of reading news articles and hearing anecdotes from her family about the situation in the city. 

After Northeastern advised her to return stateside, she left the southern Indian city right before the Indian government imposed a nationwide lockdown, and returned to quarantine with her family in New York City for five months. She says she had planned to return to Boston for months because she realized she would need a change of scenery to thrive during the semester. 

“I thought it would be nicer to be around campus, see my friends, and just be in that college environment—I thought it would make things easier for me,” says Sheridan, an international business student with a concentration in marketing. 

Sheridan, who lives with Whitman on Mission Hill, says she feels safe knowing that her roommate is taking the pandemic as seriously as she is. And despite this year being unlike any other, Sheridan intends to make the most of the situation.

“I’m hoping for the best, and that Northeastern can pull it off,” Sheridan says.

For media inquiries, please contact media@northeastern.edu.

 

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