Kelsey Brown ’23, a Sociology major from Philadelphia, has had an unconventional college experience—both by design and by circumstance. Brown began her Trinity College journey in Costa Rica as part of the special Global Start program, which was offered in 2019, and she has continued to adapt to new learning experiences throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Brown is active in the Trinity College Black Women’s Organization and Imani, Trinity College’s Black Student Union. She also has been involved with the Big Sister/Little Sister program and works on campus for the Student Activities, Involvement & Leadership (S.A.I.L.) Office, Vernon Social, the Bantam Network, and as an orientation chair for New Student Orientation. Brown is a student writer for Trinity’s Office of Communications and can often be found exploring downtown Hartford and enjoying walks in Pope Park. Below, Brown reflects on why a “normal” college experience may be overrated—if it exists at all.
I’m halfway through my Trinity College career, yet this is my first time spending the entirety of my spring semester here on campus.
In two years, I’ve never had what many might deem a “normal” semester of college. I’ve learned in a different country, in the classroom on Trinity’s campus, at home on my bed, at my desk in my dorm, and almost every other place I could take my laptop.
Some of these circumstances were within my control, and some were not. As a first-year, I chose to start my college career abroad in Costa Rica; there, I spent my first fall semester as an undergraduate student living and learning alongside a small cohort of my peers in the city of San José as part of the Global Start program in 2019.
Upon returning to campus in the winter, I enrolled in classes and became involved on campus in preparation for the spring 2020 semester. The next few months were invigorating and dynamic—everything I imagined college to be. Then, of course, the semester was cut short in mid-March when Trin students switched to remote learning at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we were finally able to move in again for the fall semester of my sophomore year, I was elated. I was ready to be back on campus and jump right into everything I was involved in before the pandemic—but involvement was a lot different, as were my courses. Nearly every fall 2020 course I enrolled in was remote, save for an elective I chose for the sole purpose of having some human interaction.
The courses and campus activities in spring 2021 allow for more involvement now than they did earlier in the pandemic, but there are still social distancing guidelines and safety precautions in place to keep the Trinity community safe.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic occurred, many people asked me whether or not I would have preferred to have a “normal” first-year experience on campus. Since I was abroad, I missed out on events and opportunities to connect with my peers, and as a sophomore spending my year on campus staying 6 feet away from other people, I often wonder if it would have actually been a more gratifying experience to stay on campus my first year.
The short answer is, absolutely not.
I was able to take my first trip out of the country with Trinity! In Costa Rica, I had the unique opportunity to begin my college career in Central America with very little knowledge of the Spanish language and even less of a preconceived notion of what constituted a “traditional college experience.” What I did know, however, is that I wanted to make the most of whatever experiences I encountered while I was abroad.
I studied Costa Rican culture, history, the Spanish language, and took part in community service at Universidad Latina de Costa Rica. It was overwhelming at times, but I learned more about myself on that trip (and Spanish, of course) than ever before.
I learned that I absolutely love yucca fries, but I do not like gallo pinto, a staple rice and beans dish in Costa Rica. I learned that hiking is my absolute least favorite thing to do in a country known for its altitude. I learned that I could put myself in any situation, no matter how unsettling, and somehow always learn something new about myself and the world around me.
When I returned to campus in spring 2020, I was able to join student organizations that were meaningful to me, like the Trinity College Black Women’s Organization (TCBWO) and Imani, Trinity College’s Black Student Union. In these cultural organizations, I felt I was able to find my place and I became a part of the executive board of TCBWO as community service chair. I helped plan events—prior to the pandemic—and had the opportunity to connect with other Black women on campus who put social and cultural awareness of Black women at the forefront of every program offered.
In the classroom, I had the opportunity to take a theater and dance class with Visiting Assistant Professor Michelle Hendrick; this was one of my favorite courses to take, both in-person and remotely. The final presentations we did were exciting, even over Zoom, and a real culmination of the work that we put into the course all semester. Even while we were remote, I was still able to communicate with my professor and my classmates and build a community with them.
This year, however, it’s been more difficult to stay challenged and engaged. I never feel like the remote experience takes away from the course material, yet it also doesn’t add to the material in the way that in-person learning typically does. I have enjoyed connecting with the professor and the students in one in-person course, “Doing Culture,” with Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies Davarian Baldwin. Meeting twice a week in something resembling a typical classroom is meaningful to me. Similarly, the experience of being involved in student organizations remotely sometimes makes it difficult to maintain my interest and passion for a particular organization.
I am working to become more adaptable, but dealing with COVID-19 in this past year taught me that I need to take every day as it comes. It’s not normal to feel so disconnected from my academics, my friends, everything that fosters fascination and joy in my life.
I understand now, however, that nothing will feel normal when you’re away from home and the familiar. Nothing about the college experience is normal to me, but that’s what makes it so exciting.
I am looking forward to being on campus next year, and even studying away again. I am hopeful that these opportunities will allow me to engage in-person more than in the past year. To me, college is all about new experiences, and I am eager to take advantage of as many of these experiences as possible.
Read more about Trinity’s study away options here.
Read more about student involvement through the Office of Student Activities, Involvement, and Leadership (S.A.I.L.) here.