Noonsong is a first-year student who entered Sookmyung Women's University in the spring of 2020. She has imagined the beautiful campus in March since receiving acceptance into Sookmyung, but her hope and expectation of being a university student was shattered with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic across the Korean peninsula. Due to the contagious virus, Sookmyung made the decision to delay the start of the first semester of 2020. Noonsong was confused about this situation and didn't know what to do. This is a recall of her first time at Sookmyung.
Unexpected changes at Sookmyung
In December 2019, the virus COVID-19 started to spread in Wuhan, China. The virus soon spread across the border to South Korea, resulting in numerous infections among Koreans. Since that day, Korean society has raised its emergency readiness to a ‘Red’ alert level. Also, with the government calling for social distancing to prevent the spread of infection, all levels of education in Korea were delayed. The start of the first semester was postponed, and offline lectures were replaced with online lectures. Sookmyung also postponed the start of its first semester of 2020 from March 2, to March 9. However, as the situation got worse, the start was postponed again to March 16. It was decided that the semester could no longer be put off, so from that day cyber lectures were held for two weeks. However, as the number of COVID-19 cases increased, the start of the offline lectures was decided to begin on May 4 with online lectures running until that date. However, there is still a possibility of delay.
In addition to the delay of classes, there has also been a delay in other activities at Sookmyung. For example, the opening of Sookmyung Residence Hall (Myungjaekwan) was changed from February 26 to March 6 and then to March 25 due to concerns of infection. To ease the fear, Sookmyung Residence Hall was disinfected on February 28, and students from the areas that are known to have infected persons will be kept in quarantine for about two weeks to prevent communal infection. Also, the use of the Main Library at Sookmyung Women's University was partly limited. From February 25 to May 3, no one would be permitted to enter the reading rooms and study rooms, and anyone who did not wear a mask was prohibited from entering. With limitations on a large number of school facilities, Sookmyungians had to face a lot of inconveniences due to COVID-19.
The better choice for Sookmyungians
Nevertheless, many Sookmyungians believe such changes were necessary. According to a survey, 60.6% of participants who responded (57 of 94) felt Sookmyung was establishing proper action and agreed with delaying the start of the semester. Kwon Doyoon, Department of English Language & Literature '19 said, "When I first heard the news that the start of classes would be delayed, I was honestly confused and hoped it would not last that long. However, as COVID-19 continued to spread, I believe it was right to postpone all academic classes and activities. Also, I realized that such delays were not only happened in Sookmyung. Other universities also delayed their start." As Kwon pointed out, many universities including Sookmyung decided to delay the start of the semester. For example, Sungkyunkwan University delayed its start by 2 weeks. However, with cases appearing within the student body at Sungkyunkwan University, the school decided to replace classes with online classes for the whole semester, except for certain practice classes. Sungkyunkwan University is not the only one who made such a decision. UNIST, KAIST, and many other universities opened online lectures, at least until the COVID-19 outbreak settles. This shows, Sookmyung, like many other universities, had no choice but to delay the school start. According to such a situation, most Sookmyungians seemed to agree with the policy.
To reduce confusion, especially among first-year students, Sookmyung sent out orientation videos that discussed the many things about life in Sookmyung. For example, Sookmyung explained to first-year students, who are new to the university, about the online classes through an orientation program. The program included videos and slideshows which were uploaded on the official website of Sookmyung that contained information about university life. All departments at Sookmyung took part in this orientation program. All first-year students were able to access the content by downloading the content. Some departments at Sookmyung, in addition to joining the orientation program for first-year students, also set up online meetings with students to provide more advice and information. For instance, MOVE, Student Council of the Department of English Language & Literature, opened the online first-year student meet and greet so that they could meet members of the student council and asked questions through the online group chat room. Do Seohyun, Department of English Language & Literature '20, who participated in this program, said, "It is grateful for student council to host the online meet and greet program. Even though I was not able to meet other Sookmyungians directly, I can be familiar with them by this program." This shows that the provision of online information helped first-year students to adapt to university life to some extent.
Was it for the best?
As mentioned above, most Sookmyungians expressed satisfaction with Sookmyung's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, when asked whether the university's decision to postpone the opening and replace in-class lectures with cyber lectures was proper, 35.1% (33 of 94) of respondents said no. Although the rate of people who said no is lower than those who said yes, the figure tells us that there are still some who were unhappy with it. When asked to explain reasons for their dissatisfaction, a majority said it is because of the unchanged tuition fees despite online lecture implement. Lee Gawon, Department of Social Psychology '19, said, “I know that non-face-to-face lectures are inevitable. However, tuition fees at universities are high, so they should provide students with appropriate educational services that match the cost. Currently, students are required to take cyber lectures away from the campus, so they cannot and do not have access to a large number of school facilities. Students are not benefiting from the costs they incur, so I think complaints and requests for a refund are natural.” Another reason was that there was not an ample notification of the change on time. Sookmyung uploaded a notice to SnoWe announcement board on February 7 about a week postponement, and then uploaded an additional week of postponement and notification of cyber lecture replacement on March 10. As illustrated, the notification for changes only occurred in March. Sookmyung has once again extended the online lecture period from March 30 to April 13 and now from April 13 to May 4. One anonymous survey respondent said, "Sookmyung's announcements were late compared to other universities. Sookmyung seems to wait to see other schools' reactions before deciding what to do. I don't want to criticize the handling of the situation, but it would have been better to have given earlier notification." As these concerns show, tuition fees and poor notification were two things students wish had been better dealt with.
First-year students have also suffered from great confusion due to COVID-19. A survey of students presents a glimpse of their disappointment and confusion. More than 89.5% (51 of 57) said they wished activities had been postponed instead of being canceled. The biggest disappointment was with the cancellation of the entrance ceremony (36 of 51). New students to Sookmyung usually attend the entrance ceremony to enjoy time with family as a congratulatory event for being accepted into Sookmyung Women's University. Orientation at Sookmyung is another event that was seriously unfortunate to cancel. A majority of respondents said that they expected to get much information from exchanges with upper-year classmates on school life, but since it could not take place, there was confusion. 29 respondents, who are first-year students, commonly said that they faced many difficulties in various activities such as course registration because they could not get such advice from their upper-year classmates. Also, many of these first-year students voiced regret that they could not make close relationship with friends. First-year students enjoy the first semester at university in a new environment, but this year, the fun was interrupted by an uninvited guest, the COVID-19.
Better, but not the best
The COVID-19 outbreak started during the 2019 winter vacation, and it came unexpectedly without warning, causing great inconveniences to everyone. Many students understand that measures taken by Sookmyung under the circumstance were inevitable, and they know that it was done to prevent further spread of the virus. However, most of the students have been inconvenienced by unexpected events. While it is hoped that this never happens again, if it does, at least Sookmyungians will know what to expect and better deal with emergency measures. Sookmyungians are hoping for a reasonable solution that works for them from now till the end of the semester.
Kim Han Yujin / Woman Section Editor
Kwak Lee Shinyoung / Woman Section Editor