This Hat Blogs: Being a Student During the Pandemic

Author: Hannah Matthews

I began my first year of university in September 2020, right in between the first and second wave of the pandemic. With cases lower than what they were in the summer, I had a naïve optimism that I would have the typical university experience after all. Perhaps this was because of the pandemic’s potential being downplayed for the sake of profit, namely course fees and rent. However, at least we got sympathy for being misled – oh, no, actually just blame for the second wave.

 The first few weeks were a disconcerting mix of laughter and loneliness. I woke up completely aware that I was nearly 300 miles from home, worsened by the fact that even if I took the journey back to see my family, this would be against lockdown rules. Any period of time when I was alone was the hardest because it allowed me to overthink. My solution: completely fill my time with university work and socialising. This worked great. Well, apart from having no time to relax and bottling up all of my negative emotions for sporadic, teary family calls. At least it was better than the first week in which I illogically avoided contact with family, fearing that talking to them would make me miss them even more.

 When not overthinking or calling home, I was actually having an amazing time. Firstly, there was relief at loving my degree subject. I can’t even imagine how much more challenging my university experience would have been without this. Secondly, the people who were in my designated household. The pandemic intensified the relationships everyone formed: overnight we went from complete strangers to people who were spending the majority of our time together. The normal timeline of forming friendships was rapidly condensed. In this respect, I was exceptionally lucky to be put into the household I was.

 Even with the combination of the enjoyment I got from my degree (at least for most of the time) and the people around me, there were still many moments when I wondered ‘what if?’. When I got along well with someone during a face-to-face tutorial, the pandemic took away the opportunity of continuing the conversation. What if, straight after the tutorial, we had been able to get a coffee together? And then meet up the next day, and maybe the day after that? Could we have been friends? For all the pandemic did to strengthen the relationships formed within my household, it also heavily restricted the possibility of meeting anyone else. Although pointless, and perhaps a tad dramatic, I do wonder about these missed opportunities for friendships.

 You’d think that after the number of times someone’s said to me, ‘you must regret going to university this year’, or that ‘it must’ve been awful’, I would just start agreeing. But I can’t deny the many occasions over the past 6 months in which I’ve felt truly happy. This usually results in a confusing, partly ambiguous reply to the above statements because I’m still unsure. My personal verdict of the 2020/2021 university experience is yet to be decided, and considering what’s happened, I think that’s fitting.