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Away from Bowdoin, first-year students find ways to connect off campus

February 26, 2021

The College welcomed over 1,000 students back to campus earlier this month, but the majority of the Class of 2024 was not among them. After spending the fall semester on campus, many first years returned home, but some were able to find alternate housing to spend the semester elsewhere with friends or family. Students leased apartments, booked rentals through Airbnb, reserved rooms at the Brunswick Inn or opted to stay at a family’s secondary property. Despite studying entirely remotely, many first years are on a mission to stay connected to Bowdoin.

Benjamin Sewell-Grossman ’24 is currently leasing a home in Harpswell with three other first-year students. Knowing they would not be on campus in the spring, the four began looking for housing early last fall and found a property frequently leased to Bowdoin students. They intend to stay there through finals in May.

“The boys and I are trying to view this as an opportunity to experience what it is truly like living alone,” Sewell-Grossman said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We all are learning how to cook and do chores that we wouldn’t otherwise need to do at school. I think the goal is to get used to living on our own, continue to be more independent and give classes our all, while also having fun.”

Sewell-Grossman is only living 15 minutes from campus, but other students have settled in a bit farther away.

Sophia Rutman ’24 found a house in Jamestown, R.I. through Airbnb with four other first-year students. After combing through rentals across New England, the group settled on Jamestown for its affordability and availability, sacrificing proximity to campus and other classmates in the Brunswick area.

“There’s obviously nobody near us, which has been hard because we see people that we’re friends with up in Maine seeing each other,” Rutman said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “We talk to them virtually, but you definitely get a little bit of [fear of missing out] being so far away from everyone you met first semester, and they’re becoming better friends while you’re stuck on the outside looking in. It definitely makes you feel a little bit better to know that most other people are also in this position, so [when] we all come back together sophomore year we’ll feel connected again.”

Just a few blocks from campus, the Brunswick Inn houses eight first-year students, including Jacob Trachtenberg ’24.

The Brunswick Inn is reserving all rooms in its main house for Bowdoin students to rent for the semester. The package includes three meals a day, weekly cleaning services and in-house laundry facilities for an amount comparable to the cost of a semester of room and board at the College.

Without being on campus, students at the Inn are able to experience winter in Brunswick and live with other students in a dorm-like setting.

“The biggest difference is that we’re all hanging out with the same people every single day; we don’t have any choices,” Trachtenburg said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “But I love it because it’s with all my closest friends who I’d be hanging out with anyway, although I did like the variety of deciding to go to a specific dorm and hang out with a specific group on campus.”

Taking a different approach to the semester, Alex Tully ’24 is living in his childhood home on an island off the coast of Maine—a home he has not lived in year-round since he had to move to the mainland for high school. Tully took courses virtually from the island during the fall.

“One of the things that’s really been hard to come to grips with is the fact that I don’t have any peers immediately next to me that I can just ask stupid questions or regular questions or just have intellectual discussions with,” Tully said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.

However, Tully explained that despite his distance from campus, he feels incredibly connected to the College due to online programming provided by Student Events and virtual extracurricular groups.

“There’s a lot of campus events with speakers on Zoom, which is really great because that’s something that I definitely would go to in person,” Tully said. “I’m very glad to see those things every other week be available on the internet and not completely vanish. I can see that Bowdoin, and the students at Bowdoin who run certain organizations, are trying really hard to provide that experience—the option for connectivity. I appreciate that and it does help a lot.”

Zoom events aren’t for everyone, though. Some students have found it challenging to stay connected to Bowdoin without being able to spend time around their peers and attend in person classes.

“I honestly don’t have any motivation to do any Zoom programming. There’s a lot of stuff that I would go to if it were in person, but it’s just not really the same online,” Trachtenburg said.

Rutman explained that between new household responsibilities and classwork, she does not feel that the College’s online events are a worthwhile use of her time.

“A lot of the events are not something that I would want to be a part of online. I get that it’s really hard for them to come up with events that you can do online and have them be really enjoyable,” Rutman said. “It’s just not possible to feel excited to connect [with] Bowdoin through the events. It’s just not worth it.”

Boaz Malakoff ’24, a Hillel board member, feels engaged with the organization and with his academics, but he shares the same lack of motivation for online school-wide events.

“I think academically I feel very connected. And I think I feel connected to different parts of the College, like Hillel,” Malakoff said. “But I wouldn’t say, in terms of student activities, I feel particularly connected. I do think part of that is by choice, because there are opportunities, and the programming is there, [but] I just haven’t really needed or wanted to utilize it.”

Connectivity to the College, though difficult now, is something that students expressed excitement for in the future when they are able to engage with the same events in person.

“I really am deeply appreciative of Bowdoin and the students at Bowdoin who are trying their hardest to make people like me feel a part of the community,” Tully said.


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