the photo is of the back of a student's head, the back of their raised hand in the foreground. The teacher points at a board, blurred out in the background.
A student is seen raising their hand during a mock lecture in Margaret Norrie McCain Hall at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B. on Feb. 23, 2022. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Kristen Iurchenko spent her entire first year at St. Thomas University staring at a computer screen while courses were online, so she’s enjoying the recent return to in-person classes.

“For me, in-person learning is a big relief,” she said.

Since Iurchenko spent her first year at STU learning remotely, she felt disconnected from the social aspects that come with university life. Online classes helped her grow academically, but not socially. Her first year was stressful because she couldn’t make any friends or even in-person acquaintances.

Iurchenko said while some people don’t want to take the risks of being exposed to COVID-19 on campus, she would risk it to be able to connect with her peers face-to-face.

Since the return to in-person classes two weeks ago, all of Iurchenko’s classes resumed on campus. She said her professors are accommodating with classes and some even decided to keep aspects of online learning, such as quizzes and learning materials.

Another one of her professors listened to the concerns of students and switched to a larger classroom for more social distancing.

Kristina Lurchenko, seen in this submitted portrait, is a second-year student at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B. (Submitted: Kristina Lurchenko)

Iurchenko said it was dreadful going back online at the start of the winter semester, but she’s happy she can be back on campus now.

Sydney Stuart, a fourth-year STU student, said she was also excited to return to campus.

“It’s definitely nice to be back, it’s really nostalgic,” said Stuart. “Which is weird because … it was two years ago when I would have lived like this in-person.”

Stuart said the last two weeks being back in-person were overwhelming, but said it felt sentimental walking on campus this week after spending the last two years of her studies online.

Stuart said human interaction is important for people to prosper in academics.

Out of Stuart’s five classes this semester, all but one are being taught in-person. Her professors are supportive this semester, addressing students’ mental health concerns, checking in more and being diligent with extensions.

Similar to Iurchenko, one of Stuart’s in-person classes has the option for students to attend online if they don’t feel comfortable. She said this is a good option because it allows students to feel safe at home if they wake up with COVID-19 symptoms and can’t go to campus.

Stuart said the overall transition back to campus feels refreshing like she’s in her first year again.

“It gives you a little bit of hope that maybe normal life might come back someday.”