University and the New Normal

By Oba, 18, Hertfordshire, UK 

After nearly 18 months of isolation, in the U.K at least, life finally does appear to be returning to a degree of ‘normality’. Restaurants, bars and clubs have reopened, overseas travel is now once again permitted and the dreaded ‘rule of 6’ has now been abolished. Although life has not been easy for anyone, for university students, like myself, the last 18 months have presented their own unique challenges.

When my final year at school abruptly ended in March 2020, it seemed like there was very little to look forward to. I was separated from friends and family and the future looked very uncertain. University quickly became a light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I looked forward to a new city, new friends and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to leave home for an extended period; I was ready to leave my life as a hermit behind me. By June emails had begun flooding in about what to expect of the academic year ahead. My university decided to adopt a ‘blended’ approach to learning. Lectures were going to take place virtually whilst smaller classes were still going to be held in person. This, however, was not what I was most interested in. Although I was keen to understand how the academic side of my university experience would take shape in a Coronavirus (Covid) world, how my social life would fare was also at the front of my mind.

The start of term, surprisingly, felt quite routine. Classes, although with the requirement of social distancing and face masks, were still filled with the usual awkward silences and jokes muttered under one’s breaths. I actually saw the benefit of having lectures online. The virtual learning experience allowed me to wake up later and plan my day around my own convenience. Rather than being governed by a predetermined lecture time, I was able to watch recordings when it suited me most. From a social standpoint, life also felt relatively familiar. I was able to join the university football team and enjoy my evenings at pubs and restaurants with my friends. The start of university had not been entirely different from what I had expected pre-Covid. As autumn turned to winter however, events took a turn for the worst.

By November, entire floors of my accommodation had been locked down. Spiralling Covid cases had forced many people into the confinement of their rooms. A new national lockdown marked the end of all forms of in person learning and signalled the start of my university experience from home. The period between November and March was a difficult one. The initial optimism that had characterised the start of the year had been replaced with boredom, melancholy and anxiety. If that period represented the ‘new normal’ I want no part of it; thankfully, however, I do not believe it will. With the success of the vaccination programme here in the U.K, I am confident this upcoming academic year will be much closer to the ‘old’ normal.

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