The Coronavirus pandemic is a truly troubling time for many, with loved ones suffering and humungous sense of separation and loneliness among many due to the lockdown. For me? The lockdown situated at a time which was the most vital of the four-year journey through university. This was my final year and as the country locked down, the process of my dissertation project started to gain pace.
University. A time where many flee the nest of home and embark on an endeavour of partying, socialising, sleeping (or lack of) with a hint of education sprinkled on top. For many, it’s the chance to discover a new place, meet new people and learn more about yourself as a person away from the comfort zone of home.
I didn’t move far. I’m from a little town in Northumberland called Cramlington and I ventured to a University based in Newcastle. It’s around a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic. Despite the short distance, I too moved away from home. I packed up most of my bedroom to move into University halls. At the time, it was exciting. I didn’t feel reserved due to having my home life just up the A1 road, so the feelings were more positive than hesitant. The move was good, meeting new flatmates and having that sense of freedom you do not necessarily get when living with some of the social and psychological constraints of home life.
The journey through university was okay. I met some really good people, including my girlfriend, and had some pretty great times whilst doing so. As the challenges intensified and time went on, with assessments and career prospects growing, the longing for the end grew as well. The journey I had embarked on was one full of learning and development as both a professional and a person. It was a gripping process of ups and downs, lefts and rights but it was one that moulded me into a better person. The wants of finishing and diving into my career was high, especially with my girlfriend graduating a year earlier and moving back to Manchester leaving us long distance for my final year. This just made the final year harder, mixing in with the dissertation and job hunting to create a not-very-nice cocktail of stress and distance.
As I moved through my final year, it became more apparent that the end of a four-year stint in higher education would end and I’d have to take the leap into the next chapter of my life: my career. As students, we desperately reach out for those final moments as a student, even more so as final year students. The ‘Lasts’, as I’ve seen them called. These ‘lasts’ include the final class, the final hand-in, the final night out, the final ceremony. We long for them because it signifies the end of a tumultuous journey through many ups and downs, numerous packets of instant noodles and major growth as a person. These lasts are an “I accomplished this” or an “I got through it.”
It was a bit chaotic, my final year. Mainly because of the pandemic but also as I attempted to earn money, pass my assessments and have some sort of social life around those. The pandemic turned the final year, and I think I can speak on behalf of most students, into a crazy whirlwind. We didn’t know where it would end up. In the early stages of the pandemic, there was a lot of back and forth between students of what might happen. This uncertainty was unnerving, as a four-year commitment to graduating hung in the balance. It unsettled many, with a certain sense of madness lingering in the air.
The whole process of transitioning from normal university life in the final year, where I was attending lectures and seminars, to full lockdown where everything went online was strange. A bit surreal. Talking to group members through a screen and collaborating on projects over Zoom. Meeting my dissertation tutor through Skype and attending seminars over a video call. It was all disjointed. It was difficult to manage and adjust to. Not many knew what would happen with assessments, either, with a lot of rumours circulating on campus about what would occur. And as we went further into lockdown, extensions were rightly given to deadlines and the way we were graded was adjusted. However, despite the adjustment, the situation was still tough.
My feelings towards learning online were negative. It was an unnatural, disconnected transfer of information. I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch over many lectures or attend many seminars during lockdown. It must be said that I didn’t have many in the first place. Part of the problem was though, that online learning wasn’t the same. It didn’t offer the experience of face to face learning. It was a completely different experience and maybe, that’s why I wasn’t motivated to tune in. The pandemic made it harder, more stressful and a made it a complete muddled experience. I will say, some lecturers were committed to helping students along the way and I tip my cap to their dedication to the cause. We were all struggling in the same situation, lecturer or student.
The whole ordeal of trying to finish the biggest educational piece of work you will ever do whilst the country locks down because of a deadly virus spreading across the world was a bit…crazy. Stressful. Manic. And those “lasts” we long for? Those final hoorahs as students? Well, who knows when they might come, if ever.