IEREK Blog

What it is Like to Be a Student in the Middle of a Global Pandemic: Insight from a UWE University Student

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It has now become a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically reshaped the way education is delivered over the past two years. Having resulted in closures across all educational institutions and a shift to online learning and conferencing, both students and the academic staff struggled in adjusting to new methods and tools. In this blog, insight is given into how exactly the pandemic affected education and students, specifically 19/20 and 20/21 cohorts.  

Something not many people may know is the fact that the Class of 2020 is often referred to as “the Covid Class.” Having been thrust into their first years of their bachelor’s degrees, it was so much more different than how they envisioned it would be.

When it comes to the academic portion of a college experience, it depends on whether the country or the location the university was in lockdown or not. If you ask any new college student about their experience starting their college careers in the middle of a pandemic, it will differ from one person to the other. According to a foundation year student from the University of Bristol, UK: “some of us did not get the chance to see the inside of our campuses, while some of my friends overseas would go once or twice a week while others were able to attend face-to-face lectures. It depends on where you are, really. But what we all had in common was a constant fear and consistently changing rules and regulations”.

“Personally, as an international student in England, it was quite a different experience than what my high school graduating class was experiencing back home. Besides having to deal with being away from home for more than 2 weeks, I was constantly self-isolated, whether it was intentional or not.”

By the end of 2020, a time when the concept of vaccines being available soon enough to the general public was out of the realm of possibility, students were required by law to self-isolate in their accommodations/ houses for 14 days which, according to students we have spoken to, “felt like forever”.

In October of 2020, several countries such as the UK, had not experienced what was known as “the second wave” and were yet to be subject for a lockdown. Due to the leniency of the regulations of following lockdowns, as the world started adjusting, students and faculty members were still able to attend lectures on campus for a few weeks before they decided that in order to limit covid cases, there would have to be a stricter lockdown.

“The few weeks that I was able to attend face-to-face lectures were still not the same as I thought they would be. Regardless of attending face-to-face classes, we often had a mixture of both remote and face-to-face classes. We were 8-10 students per class, and we would only attend 1-3 hours in person per day, where everyone was masked and at least seated 6 feet apart. Afterwards, we would all leave right away. There was no room for group tasks, group discussions because of how far apart we were all seated, and there was no room for socialization afterwards.” Says the UWE student.

A few weeks later, a stricter lockdown followed, and everything was shut down. No shops, restaurants, and face-to-face lectures were suddenly online zoom classes. Only essential shops were open such as supermarkets, pharmacies, and those similar. No one was allowed to be in groups larger than 6 and those 6 could only be that of your own household, and if not, you would have to socially distance. Universities would often send out frequent emails urging students to do regular ‘rapid lateral flow tests,’ a type of covid tests that was constantly available on campus in a covid testing site.

For international students, it was a whole other struggle where they were much more secluded than. Being hundreds of miles away from my friends and family is quite challenging for most, and it is even more so when they weren’t able to make friends and socialize as students hope to.

Figure 1 Accommodation windows UWE, Bristol (Amer, 2020)

Regardless of having to socially distance, students still managed to find a way to communicate while on campus or in their accommodations dorms, but not merely through text or video chat. “We would write out messages to one another by sticking notes to our accommodation windows intended for other students living in the same location. The message would frequently be a simple ‘hello,’ someone’s number, so we could communicate with one another more easily, or you would even find someone sharing whether they were covid positive and how long they were into their self-isolation period.”

Online classes for undergraduates would often start in the afternoon or morning and end around 5 or 6 PM whereas classes for postgraduate students began in the afternoon often around 6 or 7 PM. Online lectures have their perks and their downfalls such as an ability to attend classes from the comfort of your own room. However, this adjustment has overwhelmed professors and faculty staff members as they work throughout the day to stop this pandemic from hindering students’ abilities to comprehend the material. They were patient and extremely accommodating.

This unfortunately was not the case for all students, specifically those who required physical attendance to fully engage and focus on a lecture being delivered: “my friends back home would not be able to say the same. Many would talk to me about how their grades were plummeting because they were unable to fully comprehend their material through a screen. There are so many factors that play into a student’s understanding, and it often felt like each factor was being tested throughout our first year as university students” says the UWE student.

Regardless of being in different countries with different forms of response efforts when it came to the virus, it seems students all had some things in common where everyone was confined to their homes at one point or the other, forced to experience the seclusion that came with it. Everyone struggled in one way or the other, whether it was trying to cope with the sudden disruption of our lives and the forced isolation or just trying to make ends meet. It is also safe to say that whether you are a skeptic or not, we were all and still are frightened of falling victim to this virus or losing a loved one to it.

As the pandemic is still as ongoing as ever, our lives will continue to be different. We will continue to readjust our lives again and again until we get used to our new normal, or make something completely different out of it.

“Over a year into the pandemic, and as I near my second year at university, I can honestly say that I am looking forward to it. My academic experience as well as that of countless others may have not been the most conventional, but it definitely does not make it any less special.”

Although we have lost countless lives and so many other lives are now forever affected as a result of this, we can all find comfort in knowing that this is something that we can all support one another through, unreservedly.

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