When asked about the fall of 2020, Adriano Barilla ’21 doesn’t skip a beat. “First of all, I think we are lucky to be here and not at home. It’s kind of a privilege,” says Barilla, who is from Parma, Italy. He has that feeling every time he’s with first-year students in the required Portico class, in which he serves as a teaching assistant in a section taught by Professor Amy LaCombe. “That has been great because it’s in-person. I get to know all the students,” the senior explains.

And, whenever Olivia Batt ’24 has a friend over to her freshman dorm room on the Newton Campus, she can’t help but think of the limitations of college life in 2020—COVID restrictions have limited guests to one-per-room for much of the semester. But most of all, her mind turns to something else. “I am just grateful to be able to come to college. A lot of my friends at home are taking classes online,” says Batt, of Stafford, Virginia. “So, I’m very, very happy we were able to have an in-person aspect [to classes].”

Like other students, Barilla and Batt are sounding a familiar refrain: excited to be on the Heights and learning face-to-face, though mindful that this has been a semester like no other.

“We’re still in this COVID situation, still getting what we need. And even if the academics are not the same,” says Barilla, alluding to the variety of learning modes this fall, “it’s fine. We’re still studying and going through our college experience.” Aside from Portico, a couple of his classes (Investments, along with Strategic Management) have followed the hybrid/hopscotch model; a couple of others are fully online.

It helps that he’s also a student athlete: “I’m very lucky that I’m on the track team, and cross country as well. So I had the chance to train every day, meet with the guys every day.”

Still, relationships are different this semester. As a first-year student, Batt says her friendships are more likely to be “one-on-one,” centering on a meal together in the dining hall or a visit to a dorm room. Making friends probably takes a little longer than it might have, in normal times, she says. “But it’s still nice, because I feel like the people I’ve been able to hang out with—I’ve been able to get a lot closer to them than we might have otherwise.”

She adds: “I’m just trying to keep in mind that freshman year is a really big transition to begin with. So I’ve been trying to have a lot of grace with myself when I feel like I’m not really on top of things. Trying to have grace to say, okay, it’s freshman year in a pandemic. And just be more flexible with that. I think that mindset has really helped.”

While Barilla the senior will be completing the semester from his home in northern Italy after Thanksgiving, Batt’s family has an unusual plan in place. “It kind of worked out because my dad ended up having to work over Thanksgiving and my mom will be able to drive up, so she’s going to come visit me.” Looking ahead to the rest of the semester and a smaller community on campus, she points out, “I also think it’ll be nice to have extra weeks to meet people, hang out with people, and study together.”