Athina Bohner reflects on how it feels to live alone as a first year international student during a pandemic.
Throughout their lifetime, everyone will experience a number of pivotal turning points characterised by immense change and monumental challenges. After all, the essence of life is learning to embrace these difficult moments of metamorphosis and grow into wiser, kinder, and stronger versions of yourself. One of my turning points took place this August. Having finally turned 18, I said a tearful “Auf Wiedersehen” to my family and friends in Hamburg and boarded a Ryanair flight to Scotland, and moved into a 20 square metre, one-person studio in the city centre of Glasgow. As you might imagine, living on your own as an international first-year student during an ongoing pandemic has been quite challenging, but also incredibly rewarding.
Choosing the right living situation for your individual needs and personality type is crucial – especially while attending the University of Zoom. While most freshers are flat-sharing in halls or staying at home this year, it was the best decision for me to live in a self-contained space. Growing up as an independent only child, and described by my closest friends as a loud introvert, I’m used to being alone and deeply value the peace and quiet of solitude. Not only does having a private bathroom and kitchenette allow for personal liberties such as showering whenever I want to and deciding to meet people whenever I feel like socialising, but it also allows me to focus on my academic work. Since there are no external influences in my comfortable and extensively decorated bubble, it’s much easier to conquer mountains of readings without being sidetracked by fun – but distracting – late-night flat parties. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of hygiene, meaning that I feel significantly safer knowing that I cannot become infected by my non-existent flatmates.
The sudden tide of new adult responsibilities, however, has been quite overwhelming: I have to cook, do my laundry, buy groceries, and clean the entire place all by myself. As the dreaded pile of unwashed dishes began to resemble a yucky Tower of Pisa during my first week of lectures, I realised that in addition to an independent character, a strong sense of self-discipline and time management are essential to living alone.
Irritatingly, I am not a fortune teller, so when I was deciding where to live this year in the early spring I was in no way anticipating that I would attend university amongst calls for self-isolation and government-ordered restaurant closures. Yet here we are. Halloween is just around the corner, and restrictions on social interaction seem to be toughening every week. Due to the current ban on household visits, I have not been able to invite friends over for a chat and cheap wine, and the usual student social hubs – nightclubs and house parties – are prohibited. Not to be melodramatic, but to say that it gets lonely at times is an understatement. On gloomy Glasgow days, when raindrops thunder against my windowpane and ignite spiralling thoughts of hopelessness and self-doubt, I long for my home in Hamburg and feel completely detached from my new surroundings. The serene quietude of my studio transforms into a suffocating silence with only two IKEA plants for company.
I would be lying if I told you that I’ve overcome the emotional struggles that accompany loneliness. But living alone has taught me a paramount life lesson; at the end of the day, you only really have yourself, so you must learn to love and respect yourself first. I’ve become extremely grateful for modern-day technology, which allows me to stay connected with my loved ones and to make friends at university through video calls, group chats, and virtual society events. I have also started incorporating much-needed home spa days and feel-good Netflix evenings into my weekly schedule in order to practice mindfulness and self-care. Most importantly, appreciating the breathtaking beauty of nature while strolling through Kelvingrove Park has become a daily grounding ritual for me to clear my mind and remember everything and everyone I am grateful for. As I pause my walks to watch adorable squirrels scurry into autumn-painted leaves of auburn and crimson, I remind myself: Keep your head up, sunshine. You are not alone.