Over the past few weeks, a small group of students has returned to Brunswick to live in off-campus housing and complete the semester of remote learning close to campus.
Sarisha Kurup ’21, who is now living on Atwood Street, created a Facebook group for these students and titled it “Study Abroad Brunswick.” In an introductory post, she wrote, “some of us were thinking of establishing a little community in Brunswick. We thought we’d create this group for anyone potentially interested in returning to Brunswick to finish off classes in off-campus residences.”
Kurup said she made the Facebook group prior to understanding the gravity of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
“It wasn’t clear to me yet the seriousness of the crisis,” Kurup said in a phone interview with the Orient. “I thought it would be fun to have everyone living here and doing online classes together … But I think that people should be where they feel most safe and comfortable at this point. It’s been nice to be [in Brunswick], but it’s certainly not necessary to be here.”
So far, the majority of students who have returned to Brunswick are returning to off-campus houses that they had already been leasing.
Kurup, however, was living on campus this semester, so she decided to rent a home for the rest of the semester along with four other students who could no longer stay in their on-campus residences.
She said she preferred to stay in Maine for the remainder of the semester rather than return to her home in Santa Clara, Calif., which is currently subject to California’s statewide lockdown.
“Going on walks means walking around your neighborhood, which isn’t the same thing as being able to be in Maine and go outside all the time into these beautiful landscapes,” Kurup said. “I think I have more opportunities to be outside here [in Maine], and that’s been really incredible. I’m really, really grateful.”
Although students living in Brunswick are unable to gather in large groups, Kurup emphasized that they still can go on socially distanced walks with friends in the Brunswick Town Commons, watch sunsets at Simpson’s Point and drive to a deserted Popham Beach on rainy days.
Augustus Gilchrist ’20, who lives on Noble Street, decided to return to Brunswick because many of his friends were doing the same. Gilchrist also said he did not want to stay at home, where he might put his father, who has pre-existing health conditions, at an increased risk of contracting the virus.
“I think not being around one’s parents, for example, has felt good—not in an ‘I don’t want to be around them’ way, but [living in Maine will] hopefully decrease a degree of that anxiety,” Gilchrist said in a phone interview with the Orient.
Gilchrist has also found activities to do with roommates and other friends during quarantine.
“From cooking food to building fires [in the backyard] together, walking through the woods and playing with a BB gun, I don’t think we’re practicing a lot of social distance amongst the people who live directly in the house,” he said. “But as for other people, I’ve kept my distance with the exception of a few and, even then, we’ve gone on walks or been out in nature.”
Gilchrist, who previously worked three campus jobs, commended the College for refunding students’ dining plans and compensating students in accordance with their expected earnings from the Federal Work Study program. He said that these measures have helped him afford groceries and other necessities.
Although many of Maine Street’s businesses are shutting down, Gilchrist said that “places are being inventive,” and some restaurants are still accepting take-out orders.
“Today, I saw Ben, the guy who runs Dog Bar Jim, setting up a makeshift drive-through,” said Gilchrist.
Despite the attempts at keeping business open, Gilchrist said there are “visual cues in the environment to tell you that something is going on.”
“I used to work for the alumni phone on the third floor of the Town Hall, and that is now barred with traffic tape to prevent people from coming in,” he said Gilchrist “It feels very quiet.”
Since classes started remotely on Wednesday, Gilchrist and Kurup both said that living with fellow students can be beneficial.
“It definitely puts you in the right mental state to be in online classes more than I think it would be if I was at home with my mom and brother, neither of whom are doing online classes right now,” Kurup said. “It’s nice to be able to keep talking after the cameras are off.”
Mostly enrolled in humanities classes, Gilchrist acknowledged that despite the challenges remote learning entails, it can be helpful to have “moral support [from other students] about how wonky online class can be.”
Gilchrist said he is grateful to be with friends during this health crisis.
“I’m worried about the same thing that a lot of people are worried about—my parents, my grandparents. I’m worried about graduating into a recession. But insofar as quality of life, living with three friends during this has been really good,” said Gilchrist. “We’ve been a support system for one another. I feel like I did not fully lose my senior spring in the kind of catastrophic way that I think has happened to a lot of other seniors I know.”