First days at Yale: 2020

We talk to new students about arriving in a pandemic, and more.

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Abby Davis ’24
Newberry, South Carolina
Morse College

Do you have any in-person classes?
I am taking E&EB 250—Biology of Terrestrial Arthropods—that meets in person and has an in-person lab. I’m excited. In the lab we’re getting a bug collecting kit, so we get to go around East Rock and collect bugs. I really like bugs. I know it’s a weird hobby. Over the summer I tried to collect some and experimented with pinning and preserving them. Anything biology- or nature-related I find interesting. I live on a farm, and I was homeschooled when I was little, so I would spend a lot of my time outside.

Did you bring anything special from home?
Yes, an old license plate from California, because I like vintage stuff; I’ve actually never been there. And I brought my record player and maybe eight or nine records, and a guitar, which I just got.

With everyone restricted to their colleges during quarantine, have you gotten to know other students?
So I’ve actually met a fair amount of people in the outside spaces [within Morse]. There’s a lot of people who are doing workouts in the courtyard, and a lot of people are just socializing or playing board games or card games. I’ve mixed up some people’s names, I guess because of the masks: “Wait—are you Ian or Shawn? I can’t remember!”

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Antonio D’Amico
Como, Italy
PhD student, Film and Media Studies
(speaking from Italy)

When did you get interested in film?
I’d loved films as a kid: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, the mainstream usual thing. And westerns: Sergio Leone.  But it was in high school, after seeing Django Unchained, that I thought, “I really want to do that—make films.” I applied to Edinburgh [University], the best film school in the UK, but I didn’t get in, and so I went to King’s College London, which is very much focused on film theory. I got more and more interested in writing about film.

What are your favorite films?
There are so many different answers, but I’m going to say, for now—it’s probably going to change in a week—Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima mon amour. Another that’s less known is Sunless [Sans Soleil]. It’s a documentary by Chris Marker.

If you have a chance and if cinemas are open, go see Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s last film. I went to see it with a mask, which wasn’t ideal. It’s so loud that it’s not just visual, it’s visceral, because everything starts shaking when something big happens.

Why did you choose to stay in Italy for fall term?
Mainly because of visa problems: the embassies were closed for so long. Classes were going to be on Zoom anyway, and now I’m taking five classes instead of four, because I have more time. The plan is to arrive in January.

What’s your impression of New Haven, from afar?
It’s a bit dangerous—at least that’s what the emails [from Yale Alert] tell me. That reminds me of [UC] Berkeley, where I did a semester abroad as an undergrad. I heard that there’s great pizza, that it’s very diverse, and there’s a big Italian community. There’s not going to be In-N-Out [Burger], unfortunately—food I absolutely adored in Berkeley.

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Amy Tang ’24
Shanghai, China
Silliman College
(speaking from China)

Why are you studying remotely?
Mostly because of the visa. The [US] embassy closed down in Shanghai because of COVID.  

What are you studying?
I’m in DS [Directed Studies]. It is a lot of reading. We have finished the Iliad, about a third of Herodotus’s Histories, and three Plato dialogues. Mostly I’m reading e-books.

Many Western canon books are not available in China. Because of the COVID check at the border, shipping is going to take forever—and DS is moving pretty fast!

What extracurricular activities interest you?
It was overwhelming, going to the club fair; there’s approximately 1,000 clubs. I signed up for a tryout for mock trial, and I’m thinking of joining one of the dance groups. I’m really curious how all the dance clubs are going to hold their meetings virtually.

Do you feel connected to the Yale students who are in New Haven?
In class, yes, and I have met my History and Politics professor’s puppy [on Zoom]. I love puppies so much. Not so much outside of class. My last class ends at 2:15 a.m. [China time], and I go directly to sleep. But we have a little Chinese Yale community here, because too many of us undergrads and grad students are stuck here. We hang out together when we have time. We go to clubs, and Shanghai has a weird game that is getting popular, where you go into a room and have to figure out how to get out of the room. You get to know each other because you need to cooperate to get out.

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Ayşe Çiçek Unal
Istanbul, Turkey
PhD student, History

How did you get interested in history?
I was reading my father’s books. I was about maybe ten. It was modern Turkish history and also some hagiographies—biographies of Muslim scholars. It became a kind of intriguing adventure to imagine the past.

What do you plan to study?
I will study Ottoman North Africa in the late seventeenth century: Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli (Libya), called the Barbary States. The French colonizers produced a plethora of studies of Ottoman history, but those secondary sources have the main idea of a rising Europe and a declining East. The primary sources are scattered all over. My aim is to read them together: Algerian sources, French sources, Venetian and Spanish archival documents, and Ottoman sources in Turkey, for a whole picture of the area. I will particularly focus on Mezzomorto—“half dead” in Italian—Hüseyin Paşa, [a privateer, governor, and admiral] who enjoyed an immense prestige in his era yet received no scholarly attention.

How did you end up at Yale?
Alan Mikhail [chair of the history department] is one of the best scholars in Ottoman studies, and I just wanted to work with him.

Do you have housemates? Or do you live alone?
I live with my husband and children. We were in Atlanta for my husband’s studies [in history] at Emory University for five years. I was expecting our daughter and son to go to pre-K and kindergarten, but unfortunately New Haven decided to continue with online classes. I am happy my husband is at home, and he is the one who takes care of the kids and the house [along with writing his thesis]. But I wish I had my parents, who are in Turkey, with me to support me during these difficult times.

Have you had any fun since arriving?
We went to Rocky Neck and Savin Rock beaches. It’s so nice: you just drive ten minutes, and you are in the ocean.

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Emily Deschenes 
Cambridge, Massachusetts
PhD student, Biomedical

Why did you choose biomedical engineering?
I’ve always loved science and math, and I became really excited about chemical engineering, which is using chemistry and other scientific principles to design and produce a process from start to finish. I’ve always worked in the biomedical area, so I thought it was the perfect transition to then study biomedical engineering.

Did you come here straight from undergrad?
No, I was in the Midwest for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and then I came back to Boston, where I’ve worked in biotech for the past three years.

Were you at the famous Biogen meeting in February [a superspreading event for COVID-19 in Boston]?
I didn’t go to the conference, but a lot of people in biotech in Cambridge were sick. All of the Kendall Square area shut down. I think I may have had it, but I was sick prior to testing being available.

Once you recovered, did you stay home or return to the lab?
After the shutdown, I did return to work because many non-COVID patients are still waiting for treatment options. I was working in gene therapy. The idea behind our research is to work toward a curative treatment. We’re looking to treat disorders by replenishing genes that are defective with a healthy copy of the gene.

What are you looking forward to as a biomedical engineering student?
I’m excited about having a lot of coursework that is studying biological systems. It’s a field where you learn a lot of specialized subject matter: bioimaging, drug delivery, and medical physiology. And I’m definitely excited to try out all the restaurants in New Haven. I’ve heard such great things.

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