Credit: Nairne Clark Hopkinson

New year, same pandemic

By Zuzanna Filipiuk

We may be starting a fresh term, but during an active quarantine, just how different will it be?

It seems like a hundred years ago that students all over the world were forced to flee their university life and surrender to the new reality of coronavirus restrictions. Considering the many inconsistencies of the governmental responses to the pandemic, no one should be surprised that after nearly six months of battling the virus, the gates of the university won’t be opening at all. Following the recent statement issued by the University of Glasgow, it’s safe to say that the university life of the pre-corona era will have to wait for another few months, if not an entire year. Does it mean, however, that this year is already doomed?

There’s no denying it – the world is still facing a crisis. Summer hasn’t stopped the virus from spreading and many predict that once autumn sets in, things will get worse. Not to mention the economy is officially in recession for the first time since 2009. It’s a grim vision of the future, and even more so for students – recent and upcoming graduates will soon have to face a tumultuous job market, while the incoming freshers will have to hold on tight when taking their first step into adulthood. Nevertheless, despite all these predictions and catastrophic scenarios, we must remember one thing – they are not meant to bring us down, but rather to warn us to take caution in the upcoming months. 

As summer continues, governments (and the general public) seem to have forgotten that they are facing a worldwide emergency which has already resulted in deaths of hundreds of thousand people. It seems less than ideal that the second coronavirus wave is predicted to peak in the middle of the first semester. For this reason, some of the universities have decided to switch to online classes. After much delay, the University of Glasgow has finally followed suit. In the email issued to the student body only a month before the beginning of the academic year, they said:

“Our first priority remains the health and safety of our students and staff. […] Most teaching sessions will, therefore, be delivered remotely during Semester 1 as this is the safest way for us to continue to deliver the highest quality teaching experience.”

But what does this mean for the freshers-to-be? Does it mean that they should cross off the list of their first university experience? Not necessarily. In June, the Student Representative Council announced that despite the pandemic, the Freshers’ Week would go ahead as planned, albeit with small alterations:

“Your health is our number one priority in all this. So please note that the on-campus (physical) events will only happen if we believe they are safe to proceed, and this is confirmed by the University.”

Considering the uncertain future of the world ruled by a pandemic, and the recent decision of the University to go online this whole semester seems to suggest that the Freshers’ Week may be even more restricted than initially thought. After all, this is 2020. 

2020 has been the year of uncertainty and powerlessness. It seems that every day when we tune in to the news, yet another catastrophe has struck the world. First, the US and Iran escalation. Then the fires in Australia, locust swarm outbreak in East Africa, the death of Kobe, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the killing of George Floyd, rising unemployment, explosion in Beirut, riots in Belarus, the oil spill in Mauritius… These 20s really started with a roar. 

It is a scary reality that we’re living in, and even more so for the incoming freshers. 2020 is not an ideal year for young people to start a new life. It’s so terrifying, that many students have decided to defer their university offers until next year. Nevertheless, despite so many drastic changes that had to be applied to both academic and non-academic life, maybe not everything is lost when it comes to the upcoming year.

It’s likely that online classes are going to make socialising more difficult. Sitting in your room for most of the day, wondering whether the government is going to introduce another lockdown is not the ideal environment for excelling in your studies either. However, some people may find it helpful to change their perspective on the year ahead of us. If we agree to bend our expectations, we may even say that online teaching isn’t necessarily so different from regular teaching. 

The majority of studying resources can be found online, and most departments had switched to online assignment submission years ago. Some students were already doing most of their academic work from the comfort of their rooms because of the character of their studies. The one thing that online teaching really lacks is the social experience. But even in this case, the reality may not be as grim as some may have predicted. After all, ours is the generation that is the most connected – social media, messaging, we started using it for socialising a long time before corona started being associated with something other than a beer. Long-distance, so to speak, is our bread and butter. It’s not the same as meeting face-to-face, but for now, it will have to do. 

The key to surviving university life while locked up in your room is keeping yourself occupied in more ways than just studying. Trick your brain into thinking that everything is normal. Maybe try creating your own cookbook. A cookbook with an unusual history because it originated in truly unusual times. Or maybe you could try out Zoom for more things than just online classes. There are plenty of possibilities – wine and cheese nights, Netflix marathons, cooking sessions with your friends, and many more. This is the time to be creative. What may also be helpful is trying to maintain a normal daily schedule. In the mornings, you should dress up and get ready as if you were going to classes as normal. Keep your room organized and moderately clean, wash your dishes regularly, do your laundry. Try to keep yourself in check. 

For gym fanatics who don’t feel comfortable enough to go to the gym amid the pandemic, equip yourself with some basic equipment that will allow you to work out in your room. If the restrictions allow it, go for a run in the park rather than at the gym. Think of fitness challenges that you could do, or maybe start practising yoga and meditation in the mornings. Do not neglect your physical or mental health. If you’re struggling, ask for help. Call your parents, or siblings, or friends. Ask them to show you your pet on the cam. Maybe have dinner with them over Zoom or Skype. And if you need it, have a good cry. This year is going to be different and it is out of our control. The best we can do is try and create even the smallest remnants of normality. 


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