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Class of 2020 graduates in cap and gown

The final semester of senior year is bittersweet: students celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy their last weeks together as a class, but also prepare to say goodbye to friends and family to start a new chapter. This year’s class, however, did not get to experience being “second semester seniors” in the way that many students before them have. Instead, the class of 2020 went through a series of pivots, living week-to-week. Clarity around plans for the school year, the summer, and their future in college were all thrown up in the air in the wake of a global pandemic. Even commencement, the ceremonial completion of years of education and a rite of passage for SFS graduates, was in flux. Fortunately, SFS was able to hold an in-person graduation ceremony, complete with cap and gown procession. Everyone was socially distanced and wearing masks, but families were able to gather together and celebrate their graduates. Many other schools around the world were unable to celebrate in this way, and had to hold virtual ceremonies and celebrations.

With their time at SFS behind them, the class of 2020 was faced with uncertainty yet again: what does starting college in the middle of a global crisis look like? These newly minted SFS alumni were faced with ambiguity around freshman year, virtual classes or a hybrid model, moving to a new city and managing quarantine. We got in touch with a few of these students to hear about their experiences navigating the “new normal.”

For some students, travel to their new university has not even been an option. Jamie Park is a student at University of the Pacific in California, but is not yet physically on campus. “I have been living night-and-day flipped since college started at the end of August,” says Jamie, who is living in Seoul for the time being. “Currently in Korea physically but living in PST!”

Anna Castagnaro has had a similar experience. She’s still in Seoul, but is enrolled at her university and is in online classes.
“It has been weird starting college online while still living in an environment where the places and people from high school are still around me,” says Anna. “I take the opportunity every day to get out of my house and walk to quiet spaces...and I study there because it gives me the feeling that I'm physically "going to school" to do my homework.” Anna is also juggling time zones, and has had to adapt her sleep and work schedule. “My classes are around 12:00 am to 3:00 am, so my bedtime is pushed back to around 4:00 am and I wake up at around 12:00 pm.”

Fortunately for Junwon Jeong, who is studying at the University of Glasgow as a second-year Mechanical Engineering student, travel was possible but tricky. “The journey from Korea to Glasgow in itself was a challenge, as there was no direct flight from Seoul to Glasgow,” Junwon explains. This summer, the UK travel corridor allowed for transfers through Helsinki without a self isolation requirement, so a layover there proved vital. “The exemption made me choose this miserable route to Glasgow. As a result the journey lasted me 19 hours.”

Anna Baik was able to travel to Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and start classes as well, albeit a hybrid of in-person and online instruction. “It has been great so far,” Anna says. “My college has been prioritizing the freshman so my college life is as great as it can be considering the crisis we are going through.” Geo Yoo, at the University of Chicago, is also in a hybrid model. Geo explains, “Intense academic environment, but meeting world-class minds inspired my intellectual curiosity!”

SFS has prepared our students well for the academic rigour of college life. Junwon had a direct entry to year two at the University of Glasgow, and has
been managing the intensity of the coursework thus far. “Thankfully everything that I am studying are slight extensions from the HL subjects that I took. I realized how well the IB prepared me and I'm currently enjoying the fruits of my labor from SFS.”

For some, 2020 has been an opportunity to look at the world from a completely different perspective. “I am definitely more flexible and open-minded than I was ever before,” says Jason Whang. “Blessed for all that I have and thankful for the smaller things in life that I took for granted.”

Navigating life after SFS for the class of 2020 is different from any seniors who have gone before them. Anna Castagnaro explains: “My
days are spent engaging in a college community that I've never physically been to.” She’s still connected to her SFS classmates, but "feeling a bit left out from everything happening at SFS as the school year continues without the Class of 2020. Everything feels so close, yet so far!”
Overall, it sounds as though our most recent graduates are learning to balance the highs and lows of an unpredictable year, and making the best of an unexpected and challenging situation.

Special thanks to the members of the Class of 2020 for contributing to this story.

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