How to make the most out of the emotional hole COVID-19 has driven university students into.
After 2020, we all thought the worst was behind us. 2021 provided the hope of a return to normality. But then, August arrived. How wrong we all were.
No matter your age, being a student at university produces mutual feelings of uncertainty and stagnation. However, being a university student during a global pandemic is the hotspot situation for fostering these emotions.
Looking back on the year that has been, feeling disrupted and stagnant is inevitable and valid. COVID-19 has permeated all areas of university life. Studying, clubs, extra-curricular activities, car*eer opportunities — the list goes on. The University of Auckland even made it on the greatest short-list of all! The Ministry of Health’s Locations of Interest page. We started the year as we ended it: studying online and with a heightened awareness of the unknown future. This was both anticlimactic and oddly poetic, especially for first-year students, as this year was mine. Along with fellow students, I found it initially hard to anchor myself into the university atmosphere, unable to attend lectures in person or expand social circles. The year ended identically, leaving us students with a lacking grip on the career aspirations our studies are preparing us for.
Having returned to my childhood home in Tauranga when the Delta variant rudely interrupted our year, I, along with many other University of Auckland students, have become overwhelmed with a lack of motivation and hopelessness in my future. The reasoning behind these feelings may differ, whether it be your study plans, career aspirations or overall purpose in life. However, the underlying connecting factor is how we all similarly feel. Shit. Shifting to online delivery of university is difficult enough; now try to do this staring at your juvenile collection of stuffed animals in a town that you left for a reason. It’s incredibly challenging to grow in an environment you’ve outgrown. Although these emotions can feel everlasting, through my own and others personal experience, I have learnt the valuable lesson of making the most of the present and hope to pass on some of that knowledge.
If I had to suggest a piece of advice, it would be to appreciate the present. Reflect on what motivates you, why you do what you do. We miss out on what we can make of the present by worrying about what could be.
I spoke with a fellow student, Sarah, a Global Studies and Arts undergraduate, about her similar experience and how it allowed her time to reflect and rethink.
“I struggled to find motivation to keep up with my timetable and watch my lectures every day. However, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it made me realise that maybe my motivation comes from how disciplined I am with studying what I’m studying. Hence, I wasn’t motivated to study my degree as it wasn’t truly what I want to do with my life. Due to COVID, I’ve considered dropping out and getting a full-time job to earn a living at one point because of the uncertainty revolving around getting a degree in the middle of a pandemic. My survival mode kicked in instead, and at that time, my priority was to be able to get by, and not be in 40k debt by the end of 3 years. Although lockdown wasn’t a great ride, I’m grateful for it giving me the isolated time to rethink my purpose with university and what I truly want to do. Fast forward towards the end of lockdown, I’ve decided to study a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in Counselling, with AUT instead.”
An important lesson to take out of this is that we can turn a bad situation into a positive one. By taking the time to think, without the rush and distractions of life out of lockdown, we can focus on how to feel better instead of drowning in our emotions. Lockdown allowed Sarah time to digest, evaluate, and adapt her COVID-19 slump, and in the process, she discovered a way to improve her life. It can be challenging to see the light at the end of the tunnel when your vision is blurred but focusing on what motivates you can mend your mindset.
Be wary: the university mid-life crisis is fated to continue. Our vigilance is needed next year more than ever. With the emergence of new variants of COVID-19, our idea of on-campus learning has transformed. The Vaccine Pass Mandate is bound to continue the COVID-19 slump and the controversies that surround it. Education is changing permanently. Although the Vaccine Pass Mandate foreshadows a complicated future, university learning will optimistically return to its pre-pandemic state. There is hope for the re-emergence of semester exchanges beyond Australasia in 2023. Or, if next year you graduate university and begin a new chapter of your life, leave the baggage of COVID-19 in the past, and focus on your bright future.
If we have learnt anything from the past two years to take into this coming year, we know it will be full of surprises, obstacles, social anxiety and many Zoom meetings. COVID-19 has taught us to not take anything for granted. As we all know, the pandemic will not be disappearing anytime soon, but like our adjustment to online learning, we must continue to adapt to whatever comes our way. So, take a step back. Take that time to think and revise habits, plans, and goals. Or don’t. It’s okay to change your mind or not know what you are doing. Take every day as it comes.