Pandemic or not, I was anxious about starting University. Moving away from home for the first time, living with strangers, adapting to a new way of life... it’s not easy! However, with the restrictions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prospect of university suddenly became a whole lot scarier. Naturally, you worry about not settling in or not making friends but with Freshers events getting cancelled and with learning being moved online, it made these concerns a lot more real. So, with such a strange first year coming to an end, I wanted to share my experience of what being a fresher has been like during a pandemic...
Freshers week was the most daunting time for me, as it is for many other first years, because it is a week characterised by going out, exploring your new city, meeting new people, moving in and joining societies but restrictions soon acted as a large obstacle for this to happen as it normally would. The first step was moving into my new ‘home’ and meeting my flatmates. Knowing that learning would be online and that a lot of places were closed, I was aware that I would be spending more time in my flat than an average first year. However, I’m very lucky to say that my flatmates and I became such good friends and became very close quite quickly and thus these concerns soon left me. If this had not been the case though, I had joined a group chat during the first lockdown for freshers who had a similar music taste to me and some of the girls (who are now my closest friends) lived either in or near my accommodation so I knew I always had them.
This is something I couldn’t recommend enough! Don’t just join group chats for your course and your accommodation, try to find (or even create) a group chat for people with similar interests or hobbies because I think if I never joined that chat, I would have had a much different experience of first year.
Us Freshers were also lucky because despite clubs not being open and events not going ahead, we still had pubs, bars and restaurants that we could go to for the first few weeks which still gave us the opportunity to explore Leeds a little more! Similarly, even though we may not have been able to attend in-person teaching this year, we could still go to the union and at least walk around campus which further helped give a sense of feeling like we had ‘settled in’.
Speaking of online teaching is the defining aspect of the pandemic with regards to education. Having my A-levels completely disrupted and suddenly finding myself not doing any college work for the whole of the first lockdown, I came into this with a fresh mindset. Also, being a first-year, I have no preconceptions of what in-person teaching at university is like so I can’t really compare the experience! In saying this, it doesn’t mean I haven’t found this challenging. Online learning has had the biggest impact on my motivation with every day soon seeming very repetitive, spending my days in the same four walls and not really being able to distinguish between my ‘work’ and ‘relax’ space. The second semester was the hardest for me because I spent it at home due to travel restrictions and the rent refund which meant I really was isolated in my home with my only break being walking the dog once a day (he is very cute so I can’t complain). Online learning also hindered my opportunity to meet my coursemates and get to know them – seeing them through a screen just isn’t the same. Once again, the course group chat really helped because at least we were able to message one another and with everything opening back up again I have been able to properly meet them!
Online learning has presented a new worry within me, though, with the hopes of returning to campus growing ever-present I am very nervous that I have missed my time to explore and get familiar with my course’s building and the structure of lectures/ seminars – particularly note-taking, I've become very accustomed to pausing my prerecorded lectures to get everything down! Although, I do just need to keep reminding myself that every other fresher will be in the same position as me and I will be able to do it!
Yes, some days felt lonely, particularly during the lockdowns but overall, this year has been far better than what I expected, and I think that despite the circumstances, I have certainly made the most of my first year. In some ways, this year has been a blessing in that it has really developed my friendships with the people I’ve met – from our ‘flat Tuesdays’ to early morning walks with my friends, I’ve developed some really deep connections with some amazing people. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this bizarre experience is that you really can make the best out of a bad situation! Obviously, everyone’s experience is going to be different, but this was just an account of my personal one.
Words by: Olivia Feltus
Edited by: Yasmine Moro Virion