Being a sophomore is harder than I imagined it would be. In addition to the expected shock of going from online classes taken from the comfort of my house to a bustling campus of more than 7,500 students, there was one unanticipated hurdle to settling in at Georgetown—my lack of participation in the Summer Hilltop Immersion Program (SHIP). The five-week program, available to the class of 2024 and transfer students, offered the chance to live on campus, explore the city, take classes, and meet their peers face-to-face—for those who could attend.
Every conversation my first week on campus with fellow sophomores went along these lines:
“Hey! I’m Nora … I’m from Bakersfield, California … Yeah, most people haven’t heard of it. It’s about two hours from L.A. … No, I didn’t do SHIP.”
Students around campus were having similar conversations. Sabrina Perez (COL ’24), who also did not participate in SHIP, noticed the frequency of these interactions. “I would use the analogy: you know when you first come to college and people are talking about their SAT scores?” she said.
Once that final question in the routine back-and-forth had been answered, inevitably the conversation would strike a different tone. Our lack of shared experiences, from the friends we wouldn’t have in common to the inability to commiserate about summer classes, was pronounced. My decision to get a summer job instead of seizing the early opportunity to take in-person classes at Georgetown isolated me from my classmates as we came together for the first time.
As a sophomore, I’m supposed to be familiar with Georgetown and campus life. I’m technically qualified to be a residential assistant or orientation advisor to help guide new students, but it is hard to qualify how unqualified I felt to do those things. I had no idea where 90 percent of my classes were, let alone how to give others directions; I had barely participated in clubs thanks to an online CAB fair; and I had met exactly one other Georgetown student in-person.
In essence, I felt like a freshman. But freshmen have help: They have NSO to make friends and explore campus, they have peer advisors to guide them as they adjust to college life, and they have the benefit of being freshmen—no one expects them to know things.
In contrast, the class of 2024 and transfer students received an invite to a convocation ceremony and a Welcome Back Jack Barbeque and then were released into the wild to fend for ourselves.
SHIP gave my peers the ability to be a sophomore in both name and experience. Out of the approximately 1,500 students in the class of 2024, almost 800 moved onto campus. The offered courses included immersive, one-credit classes that combined traditional classroom work with exploration of Washington, D.C. and Georgetown.
Isa Karathanos (SFS ’24) is one of the many students who attended SHIP. Karathanos took five credits during the summer program: Comparative Political Systems and two one-credit classes —D.C.: a Global City and Activism in D.C. Not only was she able to knock out a core SFS requirement, but the one-credit classes gave her a brief introduction to the nation’s capital—luxuries not granted to those of us at home.
“[SHIP] was definitely helpful for me personally to get here, with primarily sophomores, get to know people, and become acquainted with the campus and the city before getting here with everyone,” Karathanos said.
For those of us who did not attend SHIP, seeing our peers explore D.C. and form connections added to the anxiety of arriving on campus in the fall. According to the American College Health Association, 65 percent of college students have felt very lonely at any time in the past 12 months. During the pandemic, nearly one-third of students were found to have depression and/or anxiety, a rate nearly two times higher than in past years.
“Before I came to campus, when I would see all the pictures on Instagram, I was like, ‘Oh, should I have gone [to SHIP]?’” Perez said. “It seems like everyone in my grade is already connected and I’m not going to be able to wiggle my way into those friend groups.”
Importantly, attending SHIP was an opportunity not equitably offered to all. Students who worked over the summer, like Perez and myself, were unable to attend the program. To compound the financial burden, SHIP came with a $7,500 price tag. The university offered financial aid packages but did not cover the opportunity cost for a student who needs to work over the summer. Imperfect financial solutions likely excluded students from lower- income backgrounds.
Financial burdens weren’t the only barrier. Other students are immunocompromised or were unwilling to risk exposure to COVID-19; students were not mandated to get vaccinated to attend summer classes, though COVID-19 cases rose in the District over the summer.
With students settling into campus life for the first time in almost two years, bonds will continue to form and break, but the relationships formed at SHIP no doubt gave some of my peers a leg up. To me and some others, it felt like we’d already fallen behind in a race we didn’t know we were participating in.
Every week at Georgetown, these feelings of isolation ebb little by little. I am more settled than I was when I set out to write this piece. I probably still couldn’t give you clear directions, especially if the Metro is a factor, but our corner of the District feels more like home every day.
“Georgetown feels like a smaller campus than it really is, so I would always bump into people I had classes with, and then we would talk and make plans to go eat together or have coffee, so within the first week I was able to find a good collection of friends because they were people I already knew online,” Perez said.
SHIP offered a small taste of campus life, but as the rest of the student body settles in for the fall semester, the new dynamics will force sophomores to broaden their horizons.
“As the weeks progressed, [the SHIP students] realized they have to branch out and know more people,” Perez said.
SHIP was an incredible opportunity that wasn’t implemented well. It was amazing that sophomores got to experience Georgetown for the first time, but we were also living through a pandemic. If I had the opportunity to do this again, would I go? Maybe. I’m not perfect and neither was SHIP.
But as some of my fellow Hoyas and dear friends remind me, friendship isn’t a race. There are no winners or losers, and these things take time. Time that, yes, my classmates who did SHIP received more of, but there’s no expiration date on building relationships.