Freshman Experience During Covid Feels Like ‘Going Through the Motions’


Kaleikaumaka Downey checking emails to stay on top of assignments. (Courtesy of Xavier Downey)

Pila Finau looked forward to moving out of his family’s house and living on his own some day at a dormitory when he entered college. He originally moved to Oahu from his hometown in Tonga in 2017 to finish high school, and he enrolled in Chaminade University in August. 

But instead of his long-awaited dorm fun, the first-year freshman is living off campus in Palolo with relatives and taking classes via Zoom. These are aspects of his college experience that he wishes were different.

“If it weren’t for corona I would be living in the dorms and going to in-person classes,” Finau said. “I feel older, but college doesn’t really feel like college. I’m going through the motions of getting my degree by looking at a screen, but I miss the in-person interactions the most.” 

Due to the suspension of in-person classes, Finau’s guardians, like many other parents, figured he might as well live at home since classes are online. Living off campus has made Finau feel less connected with the university and fellow classmates. He hopes to one day be able to be in the classrooms again in a collaborative learning environment and eventually dorm on campus.

After speaking with a few Chaminade freshmen, it is evident that this year’s turn of events have affected everyone. No matter where they came from, freshmen at CUH were looking forward to their college experience, ready to gain independence and excited to meet new people.  

For first-year student Kaleikaumaka (Kalei) Downey, sharing a house on Kauai with her family of seven has been hectic, but her biggest challenge is being stuck inside her home during the day. Downey enjoys working outdoors and being hands-on in her work, which is what made her want to pursue a degree in Environmental Science.

Being indoors for extended periods of time and taking classes online has encouraged her all the more to work toward a career that allows her to be in a suitable outdoor environment. 

“I always wanted to be able to work outside because I get very agitated being inside all of the time, so being out and about doing purposeful work makes a difference both externally, in the world around you, and internally as well,” Downey said. “This pandemic has really opened my eyes to show me exactly what I want to study. I learned a lot about personal responsibility and keeping up with the workload of online classes.”

For CUH soccer team member Stig Sanders, traveling across the world from Bremen, Germany, to dorm at Chaminade this semester offered a different perspective of how other countries handled the coronavirus outbreak. He explained how Germany’s government immediately had the virus under control and maintained the state of its economy and citizens’ lifestyles. 

“It was really funny coming to Hawaii for the first time and seeing everyone wearing masks and also having to wear one myself,” Sanders said. “Back in Germany, life has returned to normal. You don’t see people wearing masks because there aren’t many coronavirus cases over there.”

As of Sept. 18, Germany had a total of 271,000 cases with only 9,386 deaths, compared to the United States’ nearly 6.75 million cases and 200,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Despite having to social distance and refrain from social gatherings, being a part of the university’s soccer team allowed Sanders to connect with a network of friends and helped him make the most of his first year at Chaminade. 

Whether you enjoyed online classes or would prefer to be taught in the classroom setting, on Sept. 2 Dr. Lynn Babington announced in-person classroom instruction will begin on Monday, October 5. For Finau, he looks forward to being back on campus where he will feel more comfortable and at ease.

“It makes me ecstatic to think about being on campus in a matter of weeks,” Finau said. “I wasn’t sure if we’d ever have the opportunity to be taught face-to-face again. I feel all the more grateful for the opportunity to go back to in-person instruction.”