Paige Eades

UK Personal and Lifestyle Blog

United Kingdom

Life As An Undergraduate During A Pandemic

*a quick disclaimer; this post is in no way trying to bash specific universities or lecturers (mine, for example, are doing amazing), or take away from the hardships that people in other societal groups are going through - it is just trying to provide an insight into the affects of coronavirus on undergraduates alike. 

What's it like being a university student in a pandemic? Boy, am I so glad you asked. 

It's been a whirlwind. Chaos. Unpredictable. A complete 180º on what we're used to. 

A slight bit of context for those who are new; how do you do? I'm Paige (in case you didn't already guess), a 19 year old business undergraduate currently in her second year of studying for a degree - and with that brief formality concluded, (although you can read more about me here) we can move forward. I've previously written about my first year university experience too, if you fancied a read.

The coronavirus pandemic hit the UK badly at the beginning of March 2020, making my last in person lecture coincidentally on my birthday (13th March - don't mind me dropping subtle hints) and despite us all walking around living our relatively normal lives at the time, nobody seemed to have a clue of just how serious this pandemic was or how much it was going to change our lives. 

The worst part about the situation is that everyone is in the same sinking boat, and it feels like nobody knows how to stay afloat. 

The coronavirus pandemic and it's effects have been, to put it frankly, devastating for everyone - loved ones have been lost, long term health effects have been experienced and we have all adapted to a new 'norm' or our current survival mode - completing our working days and to-do lists with somewhat of a robotic attitude in hope that we're one day closer to a world we recognise as conventional. It subsequently goes without saying that we will inevitably get through this; it may seem never ending at the moment, but the other side is gradually getting closer - it has too. 

I was recently contacted by a journalist looking to run a piece on the coronavirus pandemic and what the whole experience has been like as a university student, and it got me thinking. Bet you wondered what that sound was - hint: it was the old literature brain cogs turning after months of inactivity. The news interview should be aired soon, and if you would like to watch then head on over to my Twitter where I will share the link etc, but after watching the preview clip back it made me realise that there is obviously much more to say and share than what a 3 minute clip will permit, and subsequently was inspired to write a long overdue blog post on behalf of other university students and colleagues. Ta-da! *imagine swirling smoke and glittery magicians costumes to add some illusions*

If I were to sum up being a university undergraduate in a global pandemic in one word, would be arduous. When reflecting on watching the news announcements from early spring 2020, alongside thousands of other students, I recall feeling completely overwhelmed, lost and engulfed in confusion about what was going to happen. I remember watching the Prime Minister list of what businesses were to close, and what regulations were to be put into place for the public, and waited for the mention of universities after hearing about schools and other education settings. And received nothing. It's hard to describe how lost you feel when it seems like each and every other industry or group is being given instructions on how to move forward and you are stuck in what feels like limbo, and wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone. As a result, I guess I did what any reasonable person would do... burst into tears. 

Am I allowed to go home? Do I have to stay at university? When will I see my friends and family?

It was later on that evening that sacred information surrounding our situation arrived in the form of a 11:30pm email from the university explaining that the campuses would be shut, and that lectures would be suspended for the time being until suitable accommodations could be made. There was little mention of students housing situations, and I remember an influx of messages from my friends at other universities a little lost as to what they were meant to do. Were they allowed to go home? Did they have to stay at university alone? When will I see my friends and family next? I cannot speak as to their experience as I live at home whilst studying, due to my university campus being within drivable distance, but I can imagine that a situation where you may not be allowed to go home would be so difficult to comprehend. 

The remainder of my Year 1 university experience was slightly chaotic - all my lectures were moved onto Microsoft TEAMS but exams and assignments were cancelled, meaning we had nothing to work towards. As with any new system and change, it was hard for the students and staff to ensure that technical difficulties were smoothed out efficiently and was definitely a learning curve for all of us. 'It's only temporary' we said. 'We'll be back doing lectures in person before we know it!' we said. Then the blissful summer came, and we broke up for a few months whilst still in lockdown and all got on with our own hobbies and interests. I completed a few online voluntary projects with university and kept myself busy baking the infamous lockdown banana bread each week, but gradually geared up to getting ready to return in person come September. 

The end of September rolled around, whilst the university return date loomed. At the time, I was so glad it was in person - I missed my course friends and the environment of being around other students so walked to my first introductory lecture with a smile on my face, which soon fell. As I walked in the bright, happy university building had seemingly encountered a fight with warning tape - directing us as to where to walk, talk and move. Desks were isolated around the classroom, and bright yellow and red stickers loitered on any surface we could see. It was clear to see that the Universities and staff were not at fault, instead making the best out of a difficult situation but hard to experience nonetheless. Lecturers welcomed us back with a smile, but we could see that their faces were trying to disguise the concern they had our future sessions when the whole campus was seemingly unrecognisable. 

This continued for a couple of weeks, and it was bearable. It was hard to work together in groups, with students dotted 2 metres apart (although try doing this with a hearing impairment - honestly I dare you. It's not fun.) but we coped. We were adapting. In fact, I actually felt okay - 'we can do this' I thought. Then, blissfully unaware logged onto the dreaded Facebook. 

In hindsight, it was a mistake and a disaster waiting to happen. As soon as I logged on, my feed began to fill with angry posts and messages from local community groups and interactions blaming what seemed like the whole student body for returning to education settings and mass spreading the virus. I remember reading through all of these posts with tears in my eyes - it felt like the people of my local town were turning against each other. These were people I knew, and people that I thought would understand. Walking through the streets on the way to university each morning felt nerve-wracking as a student; I recall feeling the eyes watching me like hawks and assessing me ready to post various student wrong-doings online both from university students and the local sixth form. Was I wearing my mask correctly? Did I use the hand sanitiser offered? Did I step onto the road to make space for elderly pedestrians? It was awful to feel like the cause of this pandemic - and was really mentally draining to see all students grouped together into mass infectious bracket. Some of us were (and still are) following the restrictions, and were equally suffering in the same ways as the 'Facebook warriors'. 

I recall feeling the eyes watching me like hawks and assessing me ready to post various student wrong-doings online.

It sounds awful, but it got to the point that I didn't want to attend university in person anymore. I hated feeling judged by those who walked along the same streets, and reading what people had written about students in similar situations to myself online so decided to move online of my own accord. You may say it was paranoia, but it become obvious that other students fell suit, because after a few weeks of returning to university in person - more than half of the class participants were online. Truth be told, it became really hard to keep up, as lecturers were having to try and manage two groups of students - both online and in person. It was at this time where blogging took a step to the side - I couldn't keep up with my other hobbies if I was starting to slip with my primary focus of education. 

Soon enough, assignments starting rolling around and with that came additional stress and destruction. Fortunately, I was at this point a second year so could understand the basics of how assignments worked, what was expected of me and how to access the appropriate resources. However there were thousands of students who were first years, or starting out at Sixth Form who didn't have the education or knowledge of how to access the resources they need. My sister struggled to do some of her first assignments in Sixth Form to the best of her ability because the libraries were closed and spaces were by booking only - and it goes without saying that 15 spaces in a library meant for 3,000 students doesn't bode well for the chances of securing a spot. Universities and education centres on the whole were (and still are) doing their best, but that doesn't take away from the fact that being a student is really tough, even at the best of times. 

I read hundreds of reports and stories on Twitter about students where universities locked them into accommodation blocks, or failed to offered any support since the start of the semester and it's awful. I'm fortunate enough to attend a smaller university where the classes are small so staff can respond to our emails regularly and offer personalised support at a quick rate, but to be writing assignments or completing lectures with no communication or support due to immense class sizes must be awful. There is a tweet from Kiera who perfectly explained what being a student in a pandemic is like at some of these universities, and it is honestly eye opening for those who aren't experiencing this side of the pandemic and is well worth a read. 

The mental health of students has taken a massive toll on all branches of community; the students themselves, parents, family members and friends and the impact has the potential to be detrimental. Speaking now for the education body, from primary schools to higher education, it can only be expected that the separation from peers and other students will have a dramatic effect on the way that we can process and engage with courses. Of course for the health and safety of all involved, in person education settings are limited but greater emphasis on support networks need to be placed for those who are actively struggling. 

How is life as an undergraduate almost a year after the pandemic became evident? We're all still online learning, and submitting assignments in the best hope that our grades will still be good enough despite the setbacks. Some of us are missing out on some of the supposed highlights of our lives, and expected to just be okay with it because 'it's just the way it is'. Many of us are having to deal with the loss of family members and friends due to a detrimental disease that has taken hold of the world. Some of us are coming to terms with the long term impacts of previously catching COVID and wondering where that places us in the future. Although placed in a student perspective, you'll note that those statements apply for many groups, and that is the point. All community groups and societal members are missing out on elements of life, and we must understand that we're all in this together. Hopefully, together we can unite and say that that we're coping, and we can (and will) get through this. 

Speaking as a student, all we want is support and to know that we're being regarded and listened to by others and the Government. It's not hard to come together in the isolation of this complicated world, and we'll all be better for it. In a time of ever increasing technological connections, we have an opportunity for different groups to unite by sharing experiences and stories, and regain an element of that community connection from the past. 

I feel obliged to share some excellent resources that I have found helpful for fellow students and undergraduates who may be struggling at the moment, which will be linked below. In addition; please feel free to message me on Twitter or Instagram if you are feeling isolated and need someone to talk to - previous credentials include having the gift of the gab (i.e. self-confessed chatter) so it may help someone.  If you have any further resources that you think would be helpful, drop me a line and I'll add them in. 


Student Space : Mind (for key workers) : @studentwellbeing_


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