Being a First Year University Student During a Pandemic
I realised my mental health comes first in all situations, and if it means lying in bed to take time for myself, then that’s what needed to happen.
The everyday slights, indignities, put downs and insults that people of colour, women, LGBT populations or those who are marginalized experiences in their day-to-day interactions with people.
This pandemic has majorly altered the way we all live (in ways I don’t even need to explain). But how are new university students coping with this big and drastic change?
Moving to university is a daunting enough experience in itself. Be it leaving the comfort and familiarity of your home life and family, packing up and venturing away to live in a city, or maybe into a country where you have very little experience and knowledge.
There’s a lot of conversation about going to university; aunts and uncles tell you it will be the best time of your life and not to waste it. Whilst friends, and potentially other grouchy family members, emphasize the looming and inevitable conversation that is the nine grand debt per year.
As a current first-year student, I am glad to say I have been enjoying my university experience so far, and that I have no regrets about moving away from home to completely new territory.
However, as well as the unending list of good things about coming to university there are equal amounts of negatives to be aware of.
I, for one, am glad to be a part of a generation who are not afraid to talk about their mental health about new experiences and lifestyles. I mention this because coming to university in a normal situation can have a big toll on students due to the big step up from the amount of work we have to do, as well as having to cope on our own for the first time.
However, add a global pandemic to the mix, and issues with mental health go through the roof. Primarily, it’s the realization that catching COVID means you have to isolate yourself for at least two weeks.
Two weeks to dwell on yourself, whilst feeling disappointed for not doing the amount of work that you should be doing for your lectures, as well as probably being the loneliest I had felt in such a long time. I realised how far away from my friends and family I was. But that’s okay.
In the March lockdown, I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of my three brothers. They provided decent enough entertainment for the duration we were told to stay indoors. Now, I am two hours away from home and stuck inside my flat which I share with five other people I’ve only known for a few months.
And although we did spend a lot of time together, it just didn’t feel the same; my mental health had become severely affected, as well as my eating habits (which I am still attempting to fix). One can only assume this was quite a common situation for a handful (if not more) of university students in every city.
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet was our inability to have a proper Freshers week. Usually, during the first week or two of university, students spend this time getting to know their flatmates, course mates and just making friends in general (they often say your university friends are your friends for life).
They do this by going out clubbing, joining societies and just socialising with anyone and everyone they’d come across. This year, however, there have been certain limitations on our Freshers week: clubs were sit-down only, and all drinks provided were via table service. We were only allowed to get up if we were going to use the bathroom or going for a smoke.
Flat parties were a big no-no according to accommodation security, but they still happened nonetheless (as well as the fines that came with). Having more than six people in your flat at a time was also illegal, as was mixing with people from other flats; therefore, the traditional university hook up culture had to change.
Either sneaky hookup links became the norm, or people just didn’t have the effort anymore. Regardless of the minor setbacks, this Freshers week is definitely one to remember; from weekly themed flat dinner parties to film nights, to wild game nights, and getting to explore a tiny bit more of a city I had never step foot in. I would also have liked to go clubbing properly, but that can wait.
In terms of the actual reason we come to university, the majority of courses are a mixture of online and in-person teaching. As expected, this has caused quite a lot of backlash because many students are feeling as though they are not getting the right value for their money: they want tuition fees reduced to compensate for the decrease in the quality of teaching.
As well as this, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen for students in terms of university placements. Studying abroad or planning on doing a placement in a different country is going to be increasingly difficult because it’s hard to predict what the restrictions are going to be if they change.
Different countries have different Coronavirus restrictions and rules for isolating, which provides great difficulty for university students planning placement for this year or next. Reduced costs are not inclusive to online teaching.
During the first lockdown, university students were told to go back home, but still, pay full rent for their accommodation. It makes sense that some A-Level students opted to take a year out, waiting for things to go back to normal next September.
All in all, our university experience was bound to be different this year from previous years, thanks to the arrival of COVID-19. But we’ve just got to make the most of what we can, with whomever we can.
Plus, I’m only speaking from the experience of a student who’s only done the first three months of her first year. Who’s to say this is what university is going to be like for the next four years? It might get better, and we might get some sense of normality back (and also a proper Freshers). If not, then we’re just going to have to take each day with a pinch of salt and hope for the best.
It’s all down to wishful thinking at the end of the day.