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A first-year’s first impression: ‘It felt like a community’

Cristian Martinez-Zendejas remembers campus just feeling right when he toured before the pandemic.

Now that he’s finished his first semester, he’s made friends, formed new interests, and even signed up to be a volunteer tutor for the Stateline Literacy Council, a tip from one of his professors.

Cristian Martinez-Zendejas visited Beloit’s campus long before Covid hit. While making his college decision wasn’t easy, he stands by it.

“I made my deposit to enroll at the last minute,” says Cristian, a native of Radisson, Wis. “I just didn’t know how to make a decision. I toured, but that was a while ago, and I didn’t have the chance to tour again, so I was really basing [the decision] off the little things I remembered. I think the final decision was about how I felt when I visited here. It felt like a community, it felt really down to earth, and I just liked the environment. I think it still feels the same.”

Cristian has made an effort to meet people, even though he admits it was hard at first. “I got here on the second day of move-in, and it was just weird because there weren’t that many people on campus,” he says. “My roommate was here, but that was the only person I actually knew then. One of the things that really helped me was that during New Student Days, we had activities to do. Beyond that, I’m meeting people through classes or clubs.”

Cristian is already involved in the Pre-Health Professionals Club, and Voces, a student organization that promotes an understanding of Latino cultures. Both are mostly meeting online, which led Cristian to a realization recently. “For the Pre-Health Professionals Club, we had a meeting in person in one of the tents near Pearsons for mentoring about what classes to take. It was weird because I realized, ‘Wait, clubs met in-person before Covid,’ and that’s so wild. I can only imagine it over Zoom.”

Cristian is excited and prepared for spring semester classes after receiving guidance from his AMP advisor, geology professor Jay Zambito. “I’m going to try to do intro to chemistry and maybe go further into biology with Emerging Diseases or microbiology,” Cristian says. “I want to take something in the realm of Critical Identity Studies. Jay told me to try to balance out my schedule and not have too much focus on science, which I think is really good advice.”

Professor Zambito frequently sends his students information about opportunities they might be interested in. That’s how Cristian found a way to connect with the larger Beloit community during the pandemic. He currently volunteers as an English as a second language tutor and citizenship test prep tutor with the Stateline Literacy Council. He walks to the Beloit Public Library and helps out for about an hour each day. “I never really taught anybody or had experience with it,” he says. “It’s been interesting—I actually like doing it a lot.”

Outside of school and volunteering, Cristian is a sprinter on the track team and has begun workouts three days a week. He doesn’t know if a spring season is possible, or what the trajectory of the virus will be like in the U.S. during his second semester, but he knows that positivity has allowed him to thrive at Beloit so far.

“It’s really what you make of it,” Cristian says. “If you put in an effort to meet new people, you’re going to. If you have the mentality that it’s going to be hard, then it’s obviously going to be hard. I came in with a positive mindset, thinking that I’ll be able to do it, and I have met good people.”

Meg Kulikowski’21
January 13, 2021

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