In my experience as a university student, I can confidently say that Covid-19 has been a nightmare. And I'm pretty sure that it has affected all of us in some way; whether we've lost jobs, friends or family are struggling with quarantine or even if we have had the virus itself, it's fair to say that the last few months have been a whirlwind. As a second year Sports and Exercise Science major at Oxford Brookes, for the last 7 months I've been on exchange at the University of Texas, Austin (something I'd highly recommend to everyone!), so my experience is that of an International student, and therefore slightly more complicated by the Covid crisis.
Covid-19 first hit Texas on 9th March. Over the next two weeks, the number of cases grew dramatically, and panic started to spread throughout the city of Austin. However, it only took one day for everything as I knew it to change. I had a phone call from my parents and 11 hours later I was at the airport ready to fly home. I had less than a day to pack up my entire apartment, give away all the things I couldn't take, and try to say goodbye to as many people as possible, all during a time that I had envisioned being on Spring Break! It was probably one of the saddest moments of my life, knowing that I probably wouldn't be back to finish the semester, or if/when I would see my American friends again. I can safely say that the uncertainty of the situation has definitely been one of the hardest things to deal with.
For the rest of this year, my university degree has been moved online. If you'd told me this would happen a year ago, it would've been a dream come true - not having to go into classes at 8am and to be able to work from the comfort of home in my pj's sounded amazing! But the reality is that working from home is challenging. For me, home is not a productive learning environment. I massively underestimated the effect of working from the same room that I sleep in. As obvious as it may sound, it just doesn't provide the same environment as being in a classroom. Since I began working from home, I have felt that each project or piece of work I complete either takes me twice as long as usual or is not up to the same standard.
Working from home has highlighted two very important qualities that I need, in order to be productive. Motivation and organisation, both of which I'm finding difficult. Motivating yourself without the usual external influences of professors and classmates has proved extremely challenging. Some days I find I am up and ready to go, and other days I struggle to get anything done at all, as I am distracted by everything around me. I'm very lucky to still have access to the University's online library, and my professors are only a zoom call away, but it's not the same as having a book in front of you or visiting a professor in their office for a quick chat.
I've found that the best way to keep organised is to create daily to-do lists! From the uni work/house chores that need to be done, to extra projects I have on the side, and they always include a few things I enjoy doing in my free time, like baking or editing my videos! I've used these lists for the last two weeks, changing them each night for the next day, and they've been the saving grace for both my motivation and my productivity (as well as the general ability to keep sane!).
Covid-19 has not had any positive effects on my university experience this year at all, considering that I had to end my exchange early and leave my life in Texas behind very suddenly. Of course I absolutely love being home and spending time with my family, as we are usually split all across the world, but 5 of us (I have 2 parents and 2 sisters) living on top of each other and not being allowed to leave the house is another challenge altogether, and something that we're all learning to do. Having said that, I'm very lucky that we all get on, and we're lucky to be with each other rather than isolating alone, so I'm choosing to see it as a positive rather than a negative.
Despite all the challenges, I am coping. It has just been a case of learning and adapting to the new normal – which is unlike every university experience I've had or thought I would have. Although tiresome, having classes and work to do is helping, as it's giving me something to do when I get up, and filling my day with more than just endless social media scrolling. It gives me a sense of purpose knowing that people are counting on me to complete things and helps me to focus on what is important right now.
Although I don't really have the free time that I imagine a lot of uni students without work have right now, I've been teaching myself a new skill, how to code. It's something I've wanted to learn for a long time but have always thought it was too hard and I didn't have time for it. I've also got back into my workout/training filming and editing and hope to get my blog posts back up and running soon as well. There's absolutely no pressure to live life at a million miles an hour during this time, but I'd definitely recommend using your spare time to either learn something new, or pick up an old hobby again - take the time to finally get round to that thing that you have been procrastinating about for years. Whether it's learning how to cook, doing some DIY, getting into a proper workout routine, or whatever you're interested, now is the perfect time to give it your full attention and create new habits.
This university experience (and life in general right now) is definitely not what any of us signed up to, but it is where we are. In a time like this, we need to learn to adapt, be resilient and particularly support each other. You never know what life will throw at you, or how quickly your situation will change, so learn to be versatile, and always be grateful for what you have.
Oxford Brooks University/ University of Texas, Austin