I don’t know what I was expecting from Andover. Coming from a public school, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t made some generalizations about private schools. Half of my expectations involved castles, owls, and evil wizards. The other half contained images of overworked, coffee-fueled students running themselves raw around the clock and then relieving stress in odd ways.
Then, the pandemic hit. At first, it seemed to be a foreign, faraway issue. Within the span of a few days, however, gatherings were banned, all the schools shut down, and online learning began. I really started worrying during the summer when it became clear that quarantine was not going to end any time soon. All I wanted was to go to school in a normal way, but I just had a few concerns. Would it be worth the hassle to move into the dorm? Would I really end up feeling like an actual member of the Andover community?
Well, I was a bit taken aback by the experience of attending boarding school in the middle of a pandemic—in a good way, that is.
Where do I start? First, the people. I haven’t yet seen an evil wizard pop out the back of a teacher’s head, which made me pretty happy. On a more serious note, the people who I’ve met at Andover were unlike those of any other place. At first I thought “Big Blue Nice” was just a slogan, a phrase with no particular meaning attached to it.
However, I have found that the people here are genuinely kind and sincere in the most gratifying way possible. If two boys started a game of chess at my old school, they would have been casted off as “nerds” or even laughed at. However, this is certainly not the case in Stearns House, a dorm of 26 boys. When you step into the common room, there’s a high chance that you might witness an intense game of chess, surrounded by excited boys chanting, jeering, and coaching each chess-player. It’s only been a few weeks, but I have found myself opening up to my friends and prefects about issues I’m having or just asking for advice. I see myself becoming lifelong friends with these people. The number of deep connections I’ve made in this short time, none of which would’ve happened otherwise, astounds me.
Moreover, I feel safe in this uncertain environment because I feel that the school is actually prioritizing our health. This safety is largely in part due to a great system and appropriately strict enforcement of rules. All the precautions put in place may seem excessive to some, but it really does help curb the spread of infection. Though it’s hard for me to meet my friends on the second floor, this measure contains all possible infections to a pod. I’m also glad that we as a campus have adhered so well to these rules; it is a sign that both the administration and the community are taking the situation seriously. Our levels of infection have remained low, so I can learn and experience my first year of high school without worrying excessively about contracting Covid-19.
Throughout this term, I felt a sense of welcoming and acceptance. I am not just a student taking classes, but a true member of the Andover community. I genuinely feel a connection with the rest of the campus. It really helps to know that others are in the same situation that I’m in, attending virtual boarding school in pandemic times.
At the events, I have been able to engage in different communities and immerse myself in new activities. From the club rally, I was able to discover clubs like Math Club, Andover Korean Society, and Computer Science Club, and through this discovery, I’ve better understood my niche on campus as a STEM-oriented student, an Asian-American, and even as a musician. I am not only engaging in the activities I find joy in but also meeting people who share my passions and interests as well.
Other events, such as the ice cream social, the chicken nugget food truck munch for my class, and the Halloween Scavenger Hunt, helped lift spirits in these uncertain times. I have discovered that making friends comes rather easily when chicken nuggets and ice cream are involved in some way, shape, or form. The freshman class celebrated the end of Cohort 1’s quarantine and the unofficial beginning of our first year of high school with colorful ice cream bars. In that moment, as we bonded over what quarantining was like, whether we shared any classes, or our hopes and worries for the future, I truly felt as if I was a member of the Class of 2024.
Though I was first nervous about the entire process of moving to Andover, attending classes, and living away from home with the added multiplier of a global pandemic, I can say one thing for sure: it was a good choice.