Junior William Castleberry poses in front of Payson library while displaying his London pride after studying abroad there. Many third-year students have only recently made their way into campus for the first time this fall after the COVID-19 pandemic and studying abroad. Photo by Sammie Wuensche
The COVID-19 pandemic created a long-lasting impact on everyone, but it’s led to a nontraditional college experience for the Class of 2024.
Many third-year students made their way to the Malibu campus since its full reopening in the fall of 2021. Still, there are a handful of study abroad students, such as junior Sydnee Graves, or those who took time off, stepping onto campus for the first time this fall.
“I used to regret not being able to come to campus sooner — imagine being a student since 2020 and seeing your campus for the first time as a junior,” Graves said. “Everything was a shock to me.”
Junior Sydnee Graves is excited to start her semester in Malibu. Graves studied abroad in Washington D.C.
Some third-year students who are new to the Malibu campus said they don’t feel up to speed with the school because they have never been to Pepperdine before.
“I think it would’ve been great to have my freshman year on campus just so I could meet people,” junior WIlliam Castleberry said.
Castleberry said he initially withdrew his acceptance in 2020 due to the pandemic and said he thought it was best to complete a few of his general education requirements at a local junior college.
In fall 2020, Castleberry reapplied to Pepperdine for the spring 2021 semester. Both semesters, Castleberry did school on Zoom, which he said he did not enjoy. He immediately applied to go to London for the fall of 2021 and later extended his stay for the 2022 spring semester.
“It was a great experience and was a truly life-changing event,” Castleberry said. “I’m glad to have been able to form close bonds traveling with my Pepperdine friends abroad.”
After enjoying his experience abroad, Castleberry said he did not regret spending his first year at Pepperdine in London rather than Malibu. Even so, he said he feels new to campus and is still getting acquainted.
“I didn’t feel like I was missing out because I didn’t know what I was missing until I got here,” Castleberry said. “Honestly, I don’t really know what’s offered on campus here. I have limited knowledge of some of the programs but not necessarily things students can join. I think that’s impacted because I’ve only been on campus for maybe a month or so at this point.”
Now in Malibu, Castleberry said his experience on campus thus far has been an adjustment — but not in a bad way.
“I’ve been doing really well. I have enjoyed campus so far, and I’ve met really cool and interesting people,” Castleberry said. “It’s been great just to explore Malibu and be this close to the beach. It is a change, I would say, from London.”
Junior Hunter Hessen also spent his second year abroad and served as a residential advisor in Lausanne for the 2021-22 academic year. Hessen said he had been to campus a few times in the past to visit his sisters — who also attended Pepperdine — and had participated in few summer sessions on campus.
“I don’t know if I necessarily regret not being able to come out here sooner, just from a financial standpoint,” Hessen said. “I think I’m going to be able to graduate and have pretty low student loan debt. Especially because I was online the whole first year.”
Junior Hunter Hessen is ready to get involved in the Malibu campus. Hessen studied in Lausanne and participated in a few summer sessions on campus.
Now a spiritual life advisor for first-year housing in Shafer Residence Hall, Hessen said he is glad to be on campus with the friends he made abroad.
“I get to know a lot more people at my SLA job, and really getting to dive into the community here is something I’m really excited about,” Hessen said.
While on campus, Hessen said he still feels behind with what’s going on in Malibu and around the school.
“I know where all the building locations are because of my summer classes, but people will talk about a certain professor or the different connections people have, and I feel a little behind,” Hessen said.
Graves also said she relates to feeling disconnected from school after missing her first year.
“My Pepperdine experience has been a little substandard but definitely has room for improvement,” Graves said. “Since my entire freshman year was online, it was hard to feel a part of the school’s community, despite all efforts to include students.”
In her sophomore year, Graves said she applied to the DC program. She then spent the fall semester of 2021 completing an internship.
“DC was a fun and fulfilling experience,” Graves said. “I didn’t like how small the campus was, consisting of less than 15 students altogether, but it allowed me access to the international hub that is DC, and for that I am grateful.”
Graves said she faced difficulties feeling at home during her time abroad. While the program offered many career-driven opportunities, Graves sought to make lasting personal connections outside of the program.
“I would do some exploring of my own. Being one of two Black students living at the DC campus, I found my home away from home at Howard University, the HBCU located only 15 minutes away from Pepperdine,” Graves said. “The DC experience forces you to step out of your comfort zone.”
Now that Graves is attending classes in Malibu, she said she is hoping to join organizations like the Black Student Association and the track team to meet people who she can connect with.
Graves said she still feels detached from the Pepperdine community after her first two years as a student. However, she is more prepared for the initial shock of college now as a third-year student than she would have been as a first-year.
“I feel a sense of relief, like this is the moment I’ve finally been waiting for, but also indifferent,” Graves said. “It can be hard to feel at home in a place where no one looks like you or takes the time to genuinely get to know you, but I’ve come to understand these things come with time.
Nonetheless, Graves said she is excited to be on campus and said her experiences abroad were worth the wait.
“I think campus is really beautiful and wish I could’ve seen it sooner, but everything happens for a reason,” Graves said. “Online learning gave me a chance to be with my family longer, and DC helped me learn what it is I value in a school, community and career.”
Students new to campus said they look forward to meeting new classmates and experiencing an unfamiliar atmosphere this school year. Though there will be challenges, third-year students said they are hopeful for a successful academic year in their new social environment.
“Home is about grounding yourself and being with those you love, including yourself. I’m excited to see what this new reality has in store for me,” Graves said. “Life is all about shifting your perspective, and I am exactly where I need to be.”
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