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University life: the COVID experience
14 Sep 2022
by Arabella Gennard Gardner

Arabella Gennard Gardner, a now third year journalism student, reflects on her university journey throughout the pandemic. Read what she has to say here!

At the beginning of March 2020, I packed up my university hall's accommodation and rushed home, longing for a life of peace and quiet. Little did I know the next year was going to be the polar opposite to how my first year of studying had gone.

Going from living with nine other students, sharing two bathrooms between us, and being in the hustle and bustle of central Manchester, to living in the Shropshire countryside with only my parents and my dogs was a huge lifestyle shift even before COVID restrictions were thrown into the mix. 

As I sat in the car with my dad on the M6 with the boot full of my life belongings, I was told we needed to be careful because there was a virus heading our way. I, still being in full student mode, laughed it off and assumed my dad was just worrying as fathers often do. But boy, I was wrong. 

In just over a week, restrictions were in place and towards the end of the month lockdown was in full swing. 

The first lockdown…

To start with, lockdown was an exciting opportunity and I almost approached it as a detox after the busy heights of student life. I got in touch with old hobbies I’d discarded such as writing blog posts, painting and yoga. 

Not only was the first lockdown an opportunity for me to get into a good routine (no more eating macaroni cheese at 3am), but it was also a chance to develop some new, sort of niche, skills. This included learning how to do my own acrylic nails, how to create good mini TikTok vlogs, and training myself to be able to cartwheel (the latter being unsuccessful in the end). 

Inevitably, after months of being stuck indoors, the contrast between my old, super sociable life and what appeared to be the new normal hit me like a train.

Suddenly, all of the random activities I’d been filling my days with and the virtual quizzes my friends and I had been partaking in all began to seem tedious and frustrating. Many of my peers were isolated in their new student homes and having a laugh every day, so I couldn’t help but miss my old social life.

When I was beginning to sleep in again because I didn’t know what to get out of bed for, I knew things needed to change. 

Luckily, by the time lockdown really began to take its toll on me, some restrictions were lifted and I was about to start my second year of university. Of course, this year was going to be taught via Microsoft Teams for what, we were all led to believe, would only be up until Christmas. 

Studying from home

As lovely as it was to be able to work from my dressing table whilst secretly wearing my pyjamas, online studying was a significant change for both students and teachers. 

The first thing I noticed was not only the impossibility of eye contact, but the impact it had on our lectures. There is already an immediate barrier up when it comes to communicating as people cannot give physical feedback such as body language or nodding their heads with clarity. 

Lockdown meant I had limited activities to do other than study, meaning I was more focused than ever before. With no temptations from flatmates asking to go for a drink or disruptive neighbours keeping me up at night, my head was clear and tunnel vision was well underway. 

Due to so many students disliking online lectures, or being unable to commit to doing online lectures at home, many of my classes were only filled by one lecturer and four or five students. As much as this meant the ones who did attend were then very focused and interactive, there wasn’t the same debates and rapport that would happen in a lecture theatre.  

Although I could pay attention to my work with ease, lockdown learning really set me back in terms of not only building relationships and networking within my course, but I was also unable to organise interviews and use equipment for news articles, meaning the quality of my work was significantly lower and less professional.

After only being able to attend on-campus lectures four times throughout my whole 2020/2021 academic year, I was more than relieved when the restrictions were fully lifted and life seemed to slot back into normality step by step… so much so that I transferred universities to Sheffield, a new city for me, so I could have a fresh start and get out of my comfort zone once more. 

With one more year to go, I am now proud to say I stuck at my studies, even when us university students felt we were being brushed aside and forgotten about.

This last year has been a breath of fresh air and I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to attend on campus lectures regularly and also meet new people.