It’s been a year since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic and university students’ lives were turned upside down. The shift to online learning was a challenge for many, while others had to make the difficult decision of whether to stay at their university or travel home to their families.
We asked some students who wrote blogs last year to share an update on how things have changed in the past year and what they have learnt from 12 months of studying online and social distancing.
Sharon Lee, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
When New Zealand imposed its first lockdown in March 2020, it went hard and early. Virtually everything was shut, and it changed our lives overnight. My university announced the immediate start of an extended Easter break, after which all classes turned virtual. By mid-2020, I had completed my postgraduate diploma in communications.
Since I had already begun working part-time in a public relations consultancy before Covid-19, I continued there after graduation. However, my fellow classmates weren’t as lucky. Amid the sluggish economy, it took some months to land a suitable job. A few worked in hospitality or retail to tide them over.
I feel fortunate to have been in New Zealand during the past year, where life was relatively normal during the pandemic. After graduation, I was able to travel to a few places within our borders – Wellington, Christchurch and Rotorua.
While we were only inconvenienced by a few lockdowns, it was taxing thinking about loved ones in places where the situation was less than ideal. Like me, about 70 per cent of my classmates had family overseas, who were sorely missed. However, because New Zealand has closed its borders to non-residents, we would not have been able to get back had we traveled outside.
Nonetheless I am grateful for my current circumstances. Normality was what I was most thankful for in these times.
Jolene Cheong, Singapore Institute of Technology, Singapore
Since I last wrote, Singapore underwent a “circuit breaker” between April and June 2020 because of an increase in the community spread of Covid-19. As a result, only essential businesses were allowed to operate, significant social restrictions were put in place, and all school campuses were shut and we shifted to e-learning.
Our reliance on technology such as Microsoft Teams and Google Drive increased exponentially during this period. Our exams were online as well, with the use of lockdown browsers for online assessments, and all presentations were done via Zoom.
Perhaps the greatest challenges were the psychological ones. I could feel the sense of panic among my peers when some thesis projects were cancelled or changed. It was also tough to balance educational responsibilities while coping with the mental fallout from the lack of social interaction and proper self-care. However, as an occupational therapy student I was reminded of the importance of balance between work and leisure.
With the green light from the ministry of health, we were able to resume our clinical placements when the circuit breaker was over. To ensure that healthcare students like us could safely resume our clinical training, we were one of the first groups to be vaccinated. I am grateful to have been able to witness first-hand how our healthcare system provided quality patient care, while adhering to strict infection control measures.
This year has taught me the importance of adaptability during uncertain times, and the importance of being there for one another. I am thankful for these lessons and they will stay with me for life.
Sushant Shrestha, Nanjing Medical University, China
Over the past year, as Covid-19 cases have decreased in China, university life here in Nanjing has become more balanced. Those of us still in the country are having face-to-face classes, while friends abroad are still relying upon online learning. The co-curricular activities have made university life livelier as well.
As an international student, one of the most positive changes I have witnessed is making lockdown friends – students from different countries and regions connecting and forming friendships.
Online classes have given us the opportunity to try new things. Some of my friends have said that they have learned how to cook, while others have taken the time to learn about finances and budgeting. The university has organised a number of activities so that we don’t get bored while some restrictions are still in place.
There is still some anxiety because some of us have been away from our friends and families for a long time and we don’t know when things will go back to normal.
Shanari Fearon, University of the West Indies, Jamaica
From the comfort of face-to-face classes to the confines of online learning, the pandemic caused a massive shift in my experience as a final-year graduate student. The coronavirus upended my schedule and affected my plans. The unpredictability brought on by Covid-19 affected how I approached my final semester and I had to constantly refocus to ensure I completed my studies.
I had to keep up to date with various technological advancements to tackle challenges and attain the success I envisioned for myself. Nevertheless, the pandemic contributed to my growth and development by forcing me to be more creative, courageous and resilient.
My university experience over the past year was certainly unconventional but it will always be etched in my mind.
Yuzhen Xie, Renmin University of China (on a year abroad in France), China
After the publication of my article on THE Student last April, I carried on with remote learning in China until mid-May to complete the French
academic year. When the fall semester 2020 began, my schoolmates and I were eventually allowed to return to our campus at Suzhou since the Covid-19 pandemic was under control.
Immediately, I noticed several changes. Every classroom in the teaching building was equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia hardware for online classes. All student residences were safeguarded 24/7 by security personnel taking the temperature of those entering.
Personally speaking, the pandemic has influenced my future plans. Instead of applying for foreign universities for my graduate study, I have decided to stay in China and enter the professional world first to gain real-life experience. When the pandemic dies down worldwide, I will then consider pursuing a research-oriented graduate degree overseas.