Jacki Smith, a first-year Northeastern student, was moving onto the Boston campus for the first time. But neither she nor her parents betrayed any sadness in their farewells Tuesday morning as they wheeled her two bins of belongings toward her dormitory on Columbus Avenue.
The tears had been shed in September, as they prepared to say goodbye at the airport in Boston. Jill and Gary Smith were sending their oldest child off to college—to Dublin, Ireland, no less, as part of the N.U.in program, a global experience for first-year students at Northeastern.
“Sending her to Ireland during COVID was pretty tough,” said Gary Smith, an electrical engineer who has been working from home in Stow, Massachusetts, during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since Ireland was doing so well, we thought it was going to be a good experience for her.”
“The numbers were so much lower there,” said Jill Smith, a structural engineer. “It wasn’t as bad as it was here.”
Ireland maintained a relatively low level of COVID-19 cases while Smith was in Dublin (a success story that was upended only recently, when relaxing protocols combined with a more transmissible strain of the virus sent rates soaring). After Smith quarantined for two weeks, she was able to visit restaurants and, eventually, museums and other tourist spots.
“For a majority of the trip we weren’t allowed to leave the county, so we got really familiar with the city, and it was fun going back to our favorite places,” Smith said.
Now, after a holiday break with her family at home, she was embarking on another kind of experience. Smith was wearing a sticker to celebrate her initial COVID-19 test at Northeastern.
“I guess I’m a little nervous coming back and getting used to the culture, especially with the COVID rules,” said Smith, who is majoring in chemistry with a minor in mathematics. Her first test at Cabot Physical Education Center was “really fast,” she added. “It’s all very well done and everyone knows all the steps. So it was a little weird, because everyone else knew what they were doing and I was just kind of walking around.”
After attending all of her Dublin classes online because of COVID-19 restrictions in Ireland, Smith said she was looking forward to being in the classroom this semester in Boston.
“I’m really excited to attend classes in person,” she said. “Online, it’s very difficult to sometimes ask questions—it can be awkward to interrupt the professors. It’s so much easier to establish connections in-person. That’s a huge part of what makes learning fun.”
Her parents said they felt more at ease during this goodbye, based on the testing system that Northeastern established over the past five months.
“Given that the last semester went so well for Northeastern, we were pretty comfortable with it,” Gary Smith said.
“And now,” said Jill Smith, “dropping her off in Boston is a breeze.”
The sidewalks were empty of snow, the sky was bright and blue, and the Smiths made their farewells in front of Jacki’s dorm. It was so different from four months ago, when they were sobbing at the airport terminal.
“The homesickness that I felt in Ireland was a real thing,” Jacki Smith said. “But I live pretty close by, so now I can just go home whenever I’m really missing my family.”
She turned and hugged each of her parents in a see-you-soon kind of way before pushing the first of her two bins toward the large glass door. Then the next chapter began.