The COVID-19 Residential Experience

By Nellie Joseph

This year, SEM, like most other schools, had to make many drastic changes to everyday school life in order to adapt to COVID. Unlike most other schools in Buffalo, not only were students who came to school everyday affected, but our residential students who live here year-round had to adapt to a completely new living environment.

Residential students, Suyoung Kim ‘24, Katrina Seymour ‘22, and Martha Odhiambo ‘22, each shared their unique experiences and changes that this year brought for them. They are from South Korea, the Bahamas, and Kenya, respectively. 

The first question I asked them was if they had lived here last year, what the biggest changes between then and now were. Martha said that while last year there were 20 to 30 students living here, this year there were only about 10. She also spoke about how strange it was to have to sit one-person per table while eating, and how now they all have to eat breakfast back at their residential house rather than together. 

When asked about their favorite and least favorite things about living here at SEM. All three said that their favorite thing about living at SEM is that they get to sleep in because they live on their campus, and they don’t have to worry about being late. 

For their least favorite thing, Martha mentioned how, as someone who loves different environments, she had to get used to being in one place all the time. She said it’s “weird” how once she leaves school, she’s still in school, and how “the only change is having classes and tests, and then being with friends and my laptop.” 

While most of us get to go home every day and do whatever we want, residential students live where they have school, and can only leave on a group trip or with a partner, which can be difficult to find.

I then asked which, if any, safety protocols they had to follow around their roommates. They all said that they are “like a family,” and don’t have to follow mask rules when they are with their roommates. If someone has COVID, they are isolated, but that has not happened thus far. The only times that they have to wear a mask is when they are in school, however, around each other they can be as casual as one would around family at home.

 Several students mentioned that transportation rules at SEM this year were different for residential students.

Suyoung explained that there are shuttles most weeks to take students somewhere, for example to Target or the Asian market. Katrina simply said that if you really want to get somewhere, SEM tries its best to make sure you can get there. Transportation during this time is clearly not ideal, and each of them have different opinions on the frequency of transportation that SEM provides.

In my final question, I asked them about their experiences adjusting from their native countries to a boarding school in the United States. Suyoung said that the changes affecting her the most was having to adjust to speaking English all the time here, and having to do all the chores that her parents would usually do for her. 

Katrina said it was difficult at first because she had to adapt to living in a school where she was a minority; something she had never been at previous schools. She, too, had a struggle with conversations here. She said that a lot of people couldn’t understand her and was frustrated at the beginning. Martha spoke about how she had to change her accent in order to speak to people here; she had to acquire an accent that wasn’t quite Kenyan and wasn’t quite American.

Being so far away from home at all is terrifying, and the perseverance of each of these residential students is commendable, especially now. While there might not be many changes that SEM can make realistically, it is still important to recognize the ways in which residential life has changed. 

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