University life during the Covid 19 pandemic: A first year’s perspective

Image Credit: Dominic Daly

“As students, we can spend the entire year feeling angry, frustrated and annoyed, uttering phrases like ‘why this year?’ but the reality is that this year is and [it] will be different for all.”

As expected, university life is a major transition from secondary school. We no longer sit in the same few classrooms being told exactly what paragraphs to highlight for the upcoming  class test. We now have this sudden feeling of independence where it is entirely our responsibility to attend lectures, take notes and even feed ourselves in university accommodation. 

However, this year university life has even more challenges. After the schools closed last March as a result of public health restrictions, we had to immediately adjust to the idea of online learning, virtual classrooms, and Zoom calls. Initially we were under the impression that these fixtures would be temporary and we just had to persevere to get the necessary points for university. However little did we know that 7 months on, we would be still watching pre-recorded lectures and meeting our new classmates for the first time via Zoom.

Aside from the difficulties associated with getting used to the new online systems and virtual classrooms, one of the most difficult aspects of this transition has been the social aspect of university life. From doing orientation from our bedrooms at home to all the various society events being cancelled, it has been incredibly difficult to make friends and meet new people. Aside from the few housemates living with me, any other interactions with students have been primarily via break out rooms on Zoom or large WhatsApp groups with over 120 members. 

A second thing which I have found extremely difficult is the fear associated with visiting my parents and family at the weekend. From hearing of the experiences my relatives have had in previous years, the ‘normal’ college experience often includes trips home at the weekend to stock up on food, clean clothes, and Sunday dinners. In contrast this year, going home at the weekend is a completely different scenario. Last weekend was my first weekend home and included isolating in my bedroom for meals and wearing a mask while watching tv with my family. Despite my parents encouraging me to come home every weekend, I now feel that the fear of passing on anything to my parents is just too much and would prevent me from going home for a number of weeks. 

One would ask why I don’t cancel my accommodation and conduct my studies from home. However, the clear uncertainty associated with the world we live in today means that I have no idea when or if we will be back on campus. If I was to cancel last week and then found out this week that we would be commencing on-campus learning, I would then have to scramble to find a place to live in the hope all the student accommodation isn’t booked up. A second reason for choosing campus accommodation was that it would provide me with some form of third-level student experience.

Despite many viewing activities like Freshers Week as merely an excuse to consume alcohol, I have realised from the postponement of Freshers Week this year that it is in fact the main opportunity for students to get to know one another, find common interests, and settle into university life. Despite plans for a virtual Freshers Week, which is the best possible scenario, given the circumstances, watching a Lawsoc debate from your bed is no comparison to the sheer energy and excitement present in the auditorium. 

As a first year entering UCD for the first time, it will undoubtedly be difficult to adjust to this new life with restrictions and strict public health guidelines. But as a society and as a country, I think we will all agree that the health and safety of our family, friends, and loved ones is much more of a priority than an ‘in person’ coffee morning or debate. As students, we can spend the entire year feeling angry, frustrated and annoyed, uttering phrases like ‘why this year?’ but the reality is that this year is and will be different for all. We must instead make the most of any opportunities offered to us, remove the virtual barriers of awkwardness on Zoom calls, participate in the wide range of society and sports activities being held online and above all else, we must try to identify the small positives in our lives to add a sense of light to what can often seem like doom and gloom. That might involve going for a socially distanced walk on campus or having a Zoom quiz with your course members. This year will test and try us but we must as best we can rise above it and look forward to the future, where we will hopefully be able to resume on-campus learning, meet our peers face to face and breathe in that UCD campus air.