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A first year's outlook into whether starting university this year was worthwhile.

For every new student in 2020, one thing has been made abundantly clear: this year is NOT normal. Starting off my university experience amidst a pandemic is something I would have never dreamed I’d be doing, yet here I am! However, it's obvious that although I'm here in person, there are still obstacles preventing me from that “perfect uni experience”. Whether it be the online teaching or the quarantining, we’re all having to adjust to a whole new kind of normal. The question is... is it worth it?

For me, the answer at first seemed very clear. University is something I had been looking forward to for ages, and the idea of staying at home while all of my friends went off to become fully fledged, independent adults seemed crazy. Furthermore, the “lockdown me” was almost certain that this whole Covid business would blow over once the summer ended. Yet of course, as the months went on and nothing much changed in the world, I had to start coming to terms that my in-person uni experience was seeming less and less achievable. 

Many of my friends were deciding to take spontaneous gap years, while others were staying home to simply do their courses online. They were certainly saving on travel and accommodation compared to me, but I still felt a strong need to come to Glasgow for various reasons.

Before I came, I found out very quickly that when people heard I was off to Uni, they became very excited to give me all the tips and reminisce over their own memories. “You’ll meet your lifelong friends there” they would say, and “Trust me, at the end of Freshers’ Week, you’ll know tons of people, and will have had some amazing experiences already.” Well, let’s just say that didn’t go quite to plan.

While I really appreciate how much the University tried to give a normal and exciting Freshers’ Week experience, it just wasn’t the same. With most events online, and only a few in-person ones (involving bucket loads of hand sanitiser), I could clearly tell my Freshers’ Week was nowhere near normal. The struggles of not being allowed to meet up with new friends, added with hours of Zoom lectures, made my first two weeks pretty hectic. 

Now that we are over halfway through the first semester, it is clear that there are a multitude of other problems within 2020 Uni experience, with the most prevailing one perhaps being the quarantining in halls that hundreds of students have had to face. Many people have complained about Universities’ approach to handling support within student accommodation, and this of course all started with the University encouraging all students to come in person in September. Quarantining for two weeks with people you barely know was definitely not on any students’ bucket list, yet by emphasising an importance in coming in person to the city, Glasgow University made the spike in Covid cases frankly inevitable. I know that many people are frustrated because of this, and some have even decided to give up and go home as a result. Fortunately, there are still aspects of University life that I found no pandemic could take away.

I was talking to one of my flatmates the other day about the whole idea of the “university experience” and how it has changed because of the current pandemic situation.  Certainly as many of us have seen, this new "uni experience" can’t include raging parties anymore! But this doesn’t mean our social lives at uni are a complete bust. If anything, people are being given the chance to get to know a select few on a much deeper level, and whether that works out for you or not, I’d say it’s much better than staring at a Zoom lecture at home all day long. More than anything, university in my opinion is about the people, and however strange or different this year might be, I am still so glad I came anyways to meet who I have met. 

Of course with everything online, it is now so much harder to make new friends straight away, and I thought international students might have the best idea as to why one might travel such a long way just to have classes online. Whatever their reasons were, it had to be great enough to merit traveling thousands of miles, as they did not exactly escape with the easy option. 

Talking to some international friends, I realised how tough this start of term had actually been for some. They admitted that while they had known that most classes would be online, it was still a shock to find out that they had all been transferred online, even the labs. University was definitely not shaping up to be the valuable experience everyone had promised, and while it might have been a comfort that everyone was in the same boat, it didn’t make the loss of a normal first year of uni any easier to handle. 

When we are prevented from meeting classmates, paying tons of money to sit in our dorm room on a computer to learn, it can be unclear why we should actively choose to take on the uni experience this year. 

Well, the simple answer that I kept getting again and again from other students, was because of a hope it would all eventually change. 2020 definitely is not the year any one was expecting. Nothing could have prepared me from facing all the catastrophes that came along: from graduating 4 months too early, to having all my summer plans come crashing down, and finally, to realising my Freshers’ experience was forever lost. I’m certain many other students have had these same struggles, and worse this year, but that doesn’t mean the only option was to give up and try again next year. That might have been the easier option, but definitely not the option that I in the end decided to take.

Despite all odds, I am determined to make the most of this year, because I know that once uni life goes back to normal (or as normal as we can get) it will certainly be an amazing experience. And it is true that I am not alone in these challenges of University in a pandemic, as students who have lived through this year and decided to risk facing quarantining, hours of Zoom, and harsh restrictions will be stronger, smarter, and closer together because of it.

One thing is for sure: me, as well as thousands of other students across the world, will have one hell of a story for our grandchildren. 


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