Bella Koscal: 'The biggest challenge is motivation'
Junior Bella Koscal was studying abroad when she heard the news that the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the United States. She had to pick up and leave her study abroad at a moment’s notice, so she could get home before the borders closed. Returning to KU for the fall semester was difficult. Koscal feels like her classes drag on and the lines between studying and class time are blurred during online learning.
She is thankful that KU and the journalism school are taking precautions to keep students safe. She also feels like the fall semester has been much more organized than the spring. Despite this, she finds it hard to feel motivated to do school from home. The lack of interaction and in-person experiences is challenging because she is a hands-on learner. Koscal has been able to find some excitement after joining KJHK this semester. She is able to interact with her peers in a safe way through this journalism organization. She fears her peers are not taking the pandemic as seriously as they should. She looks forward to when things return to “normal” so she can resume a regular college experience.
Kate Robinson: This is Kate Robinson. Today is Nov. 9, 2020. I'm interviewing Bella Koscal for the William Allen White School of Journalism Pandemic Oral History Project. So Bella, going back to March, what was your initial reaction when the pandemic hit?
Bella Koscal: Oh, OK. So in March, I was studying abroad. I was in Spain. I left in January and was there up until the day that the president [Donald Trump] made that announcement that we were going into the complete lockdown and shutting the borders. So up until then, we had noticed like the kids in my program that -- we had definitely noticed that it was picking up steam in the European countries. It was on our radar when we were traveling in the weekends, you know, more and more kids were coming back with coughs and things like that. A couple of times. So it was a little bit concerning, especially because my best friend from high school was in Italy. She was in Florence the same semester. And so she got sent home three weeks before, before I did. And so it was just kind of like watching, like the hour glass fill up until just the shoe dropped. So, yeah. So --
Kate Robinson: So was your, when you initially heard the news, did you hear news that your, about KU, did you hear news that KU campus was closing or that your program was closing abroad? What was that like? What did you hear?
Bella Koscal: So I knew -- the timing's a little bit muffled in my head, but I knew that there was actually a case, like, or a reported case at KU before there was by [near] me. So we were aware of that. And then I know that KU had their spring break. And then they were told that they were not going to come back for at least a couple of weeks, I think. And then within that time, that's when like that, that was like when March 13 happened. Cause that's like the day, the cutoff day for chaos in my brain. So I guess I kinda think it all happened like right at that same time where it was up in the air up until the moment that it was absolutely certain that, that we were going to be shut down for longer than anybody anticipated.
Kate Robinson: And do you remember where you were when you heard that news?
Bella Koscal: Yes, I was asleep. It was 2 in the morning for me. And I had called my dad two hours earlier to say that I'm like, Oh, I don't think my mom can come visit me in two weeks because the pandemic is just too iffy. And then an hour later, he called me, which like I wasn't supposed to do because that cost money to call international, and he called me and he was like, yeah. Pack your bags. You're leaving right now. And I got up and I was on the train to fly home in less than two hours.
Kate Robinson: Wow. That's crazy. So how would you say it -- this semester has been different than the spring semester when the pandemic initially hit?
Bella Koscal: It certainly is more organized, which I'm really thankful for the sort of the second half of my, of last semester in my brain is just sort of lost. Like we did the best we could given the circumstance. I think that I was pretty lucky because my program already had like an online contingency emergency plan anyways. But I know that for KU, it was exceptionally difficult given that nobody could have anticipated this. So thankfully this year we have more, more infrastructure in place, I guess, to keep our classes going.
Kate Robinson: Definitely. So, what has been the biggest challenge of adapting to the changes on campus?
Bella Koscal: Ooh. I think for me the biggest challenge is motivation. I am definitely somebody that enjoys like being interactive with my professors and with other students and just getting feedback. And that is significantly more difficult. Now I know that I have like some assignments that are technically like peer assignments that I've never once spoken to the person that is my partner. So it's -- it's a little bit difficult to like have any sort of connection with the people that you're working on. Yeah.
Kate Robinson: How has your workload changed as a result of the pandemic?
Bella Koscal: I don't know that it's necessarily like more work, but it feels like it's just never ending in the sense that like, like weekends are no different than work, than weekdays. Now it's all sort of like -- you just don't receive more homework on the weekends. And there's no distinction between what feels like class and what feels like studying. So the sort of blending together of all of it makes it just seem like there's a never-ending flow of work that has to be done.
Kate Robinson: Right. So what was your perception of the pandemic changed over time?
Bella Koscal: Like everybody else, I was pretty naive in the beginning. I felt that maybe there would be a chance that I would be able to go back and finish part of my semester. And you know, it just in the very beginning no, no, it was a silly thought to have. I think that pretty quickly I had a really like sobering realization that like, this is not something that is going to be corrected anytime soon. And it's something that we have to -- I have to mentally prepare myself to just sustain until things can kind of come back to normal. And that not everybody would continue to take it as seriously as it is. They need to, as time goes on, which it's difficult.
Kate Robinson: Right. And how would you say you have emotionally coped with a pandemic? Really?
Bella Koscal: It's definitely come in stages of just like, there was definitely like a sort of like a mourning period, I guess, for like all of my plans that I had ‘cause it really goofed up a whole year and a half of plans so far. So definitely it started with that. And now it's just -- I think it moved to apathy for a while, too, of like, I can't do anything. And now I feel like it's just trying to push through and like figure out what I can do despite the circumstances.
Kate Robinson: OK. How, how has your involvement in J-School organizations, other student organizations, Greek life or clubs been affected?
Bella Koscal: I had to drop my sorority, so that was something I definitely did not expect to do. Not something that I wanted to do, but I feel like I personally feel like my hand was kind of forced one way or another on that. So that was super fun and exciting. The organization, the other organizations that I'm part of, I work for the Dole Institute of Politics and that has significantly been impacted because we no longer can do any sort of in-person activities. No lectures. All my work is from home. It makes posting on social media very difficult because there's no photos to post, which is like, that's my job. And then I started working for KJHK, and luckily that's been a sort of like a light influence for myself because it gives me more opportunity to interact with new people in a safe environment, which I'm very thankful.
Kate Robinson: Yeah. That's great. So how do you feel about your fellow students’ response to the pandemic?
Bella Koscal: I think that it -- the campus has been kind of irresponsible largely. I know that in the beginning of the semester, I was really disappointed to see that there were lots of parties happening on campus. I live right near the stadium on main street and every single night I can hear the frats of those streets singing loudly and music blasting from all the directions. And it's disappointing because I know that my life is being -- like I am choosing to do something that I think will minimize my risk and the risk that I pose to others and a large part of the community around me is not doing that same thing. So, and that sounds I'm disappointed. Right. OK.
Kate Robinson: Do you have plans to adapt your education or career to the current situation?
Bella Koscal: Education-wise we have been adapting just because we're all online most, or at least like 99% of my work is online. So that's been a big adjustment. In terms of my career. I don't, I mean, my jobs are technically remote now, too, but I don't think that they will be indefinitely or like in the future. I like to do very, like I said, like interactive and hands-on sort of work and activities. So I really hope that this is not an indefinite structure of my job as well.
Kate Robinson: Right. How do you feel about specifically the School of Journalism's response to the pandemic?
Bella Koscal: I've been really impressed by the J-School's response. They have maintained like really easy access to speaking to the advisers, to speaking to professors, making sure that office hours and just people are accessible and technology is accessible when needed, which is -- that's a really big deal right now because not everybody has access to everything they need for their classes most of the time. And I also have been really impressed with the way that like they scheduled their classes so that, you know, you could have a safe opportunity to like, that's my only, like in-person class is a J-School class and they did it in such a way that I feel safe going to those classes. So I've been impressed with that.
Kate Robinson: Great. How has the pandemic changed the School of Journalism and KU in general?
Bella Koscal: I can't say how It's changed. I don't think the character of the school has, I mean, campus is a ghost town that's for sure. I don't think that that's a permanent change that we're going to see. I know that like the campus, part of the best parts of KU is that it's so lively and there's so much like buzz and activity all the time. I can't see that like aspect of the school changing because of the pandemic in the long run, which I'm really thankful for. But I do think that it is sobering to the students or at least making people do more like things on the DL as opposed to being so flagrant with it, with their activities. But I don't think that it'll indefinitely change the school and the character that I think.
Kate Robinson: OK. Do you think that there's any way KU will be better because of what's happened?
Bella Koscal: I think that there will definitely be easier accessibility for students with disabilities, which is a really great -- I think that's like a great feature or great capability that the pandemic has brought out from KU with the new availability of like Zoom lectures and just like closed captions. Like we've made big advances in that out of necessity, but now it's available to everyone. Yeah. Sorry, can you repeat the question again?
Kate Robinson: The question was how do you -- how do you think KU will be better after everything that's happened?
Bella Koscal: Yeah. I just wanted to make sure that I was going in the right direction. So definitely like ADA accessibility. And I also think that there's a -- more of a sense of humanity between like professors and students and everybody's sort of understanding that everybody is having a horrible time. Right. Especially also with the [2020 presidential] election just having happened. There is a greater sense of like empathy, which I think is really important between people.
Kate Robinson: Yeah. So what advice would you give someone 100 years from now who may be dealing with another pandemic?
Bella Koscal: Stay strong. It's -- it's horribly difficult, especially being like I'm 20. I wanted to come back to the school year and be able to see all my friends, to go to parties, to tailgate, to have a lot of fun. Like that's what, that's what we think college is about. And to have that stripped away from us right now, that's really difficult. And it takes a lot of like self and willpower and it sucks so much of the time. But I think that you just have to like envision what you're doing it for. Like I do it so that I can go home and see my parents and not have to worry that I'm going to make them sick or my grandparents sick. And yeah, you just -- I know that you have to know that this isn't the way that things are always going to be. And so that if you can just stick it through for longer than you think is possible, then maybe we'll get through it without getting more people sick.
Kate Robinson: Great. Well, thank you, Bella. This is the conclusion of this oral history.