COVID-19 has created a whole new freshers experience, with it becoming the norm to see other students wrapped in blankets during morning Zoom calls. If they even turned their cameras on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many lives: weddings, birthdays, graduations and all sorts of celebratory events have been cancelled for people across the globe. The pandemic has affected all areas of society, from healthcare to construction, but freshers have particularly felt the plight.
Like the generations of students before us, we were fresh out of school, ready to head off to university. We would finally be moving out of our parents’ homes, meeting new people, and basking in the newfound independence of university life, or at least that was what we hoped for. Having had graduations, proms, and for many, the special eighteenth birthday cancelled, we were anticipating the next round of bad news. And there it came, as Cambridge was one of the first institutions to announce that all classes for the 2020-21 year would take place online, and one by one, other UK universities followed.
We waited anxiously to find out whether it would be the same for us, too. Would we be entirely online? A hybrid of in-person and online? Lots of students chose to defer their start as for them, online learning only simply wouldn’t work. Others took the opportunity to work or learn new skills during the year whilst also studying for a full-time degree. Irrespective of circumstances, however, all of us missed out on some aspect of “university life”, whether this be making new friends, going on pub crawls, or even joining societies. The university experience changed for freshers across the country.
Slowly, as we inched closer and closer to the start of the term, group chats were made, welcome week calls were had, and we started to virtually “meet” our classmates. Of course, 2021 freshers aren’t the only cohort of students to be impacted by COVID-19: 2020 graduates left university without graduation. With degree certificates sent in the post, they were thrown into the daunting world of work in the midst of a global stand-still. Similarly, 2019/2020 freshers experienced disruption to most of their first year and were left to sort out their living arrangements for the coming year whilst being uncertain of future COVID restrictions.
However, many 2020/2021 freshers have been introduced to university life without ever having set foot on campus. Some of us chose to move into halls despite the absence of in-person classes; some stayed at home with parents, and some international students dealt with studying from an entirely different time zone. All-in-all, it hasn’t quite felt like the experience we’d all been anticipating. Instead, we went about our daily lives locked indoors, squeezing in our class hours between our messy sleep schedules and weird eating schedules. This year, it hasn’t been uncommon to see other students still wrapped in blankets during morning Zoom calls, and that was if they even turned their cameras on.
The world of online teaching made it difficult to form friendships. Bonds would be formed through sliding into DMs and scheduling Zoom calls outside of arranged lectures. Groups of twos or threes seem to be most of what has been formed throughout the year: the majority of us don’t feel like we really know our fellow classmates, and many of us haven’t seen the face of someone studying a different course.
This leaves us with an interesting situation that we all hope the University will be able to manage next year. As the 2021-22 year starts, City University, like many others, will be welcoming two years’ worth of freshers. This is two years’ worth of students that have never set their foot on campus, surrounded mostly by strangers. It is likely that the first and second years will be equally lost, but this does, however, mean that the University could experience higher participation in societies.
Similarly, attendance at on-campus events may increase as both first and second years become eager to discover what the University has to offer. In spite of it all, this past year has been a difficult one for many, but our hopes for 2021-2022 remain high.