Let me paraphrase a famous Mean Girls question — show of hands, how many students have felt their university experience was personally victimized by the COVID-19 pandemic?
My hand is waving frantically.
Like many of my peers, my first year of university was more than a little unconventional. I’m now one midterm season deep into my second year, and when I reflect on the expectations of university I had back in high school, the actual experience is nothing like the reality.
Two years ago, I recall fantasizing about campus life — meeting new people, exploring academic interests and experiencing the thrill of university culture. I was convinced I would almost immediately make an incredible, tight-knit friend group and find my place in a crowded classroom.
I thought university would be a landmark, once-in-a-lifetime experience — the perfect transition from adolescence into adulthood.
Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic began and restrictions first put in place during the spring of 2020 meant that Grade 12 ended without much fanfare. I spent the summer becoming accustomed to the oh-so familiar surroundings of my parents’ basement rather than making preparations for a new phase of my life.
I didn’t get the chance to start fresh.
The novelty of being a university student was confined to my laptop screen and the messy notebook stack beside me. I didn’t get to, as I had imagined, study in a library or a cute coffee shop with some friends, or with anyone at all.
Now that I finally have one class on campus, I feel as though I’m still a brand new student, unsure of where all the buildings are. A month in, I’m still trying to figure out my bus route. It feels almost fraudulent to claim that I’m a second-year student.
Instead of meeting up with all the new friends I thought I would have made in first year, I now catch a few snippets of conversation at the start and end of a lecture., I and then challenge myself to recognize the people I spoke to, through all of our masks, the next time I see them.
Although it is exciting to now be able to attend class in person, there are days when my sore hand can’t keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the professor, and I miss the freedom of being able to hit “pause” on a lecture to take notes.
As much as I would sometimes like to be upset about everything I missed out on in my first year and blame it on the COVID-19 pandemic, when I look back, I realize that the expectations I had for my university experience were already pretty unreasonable, regardless of whether there was a pandemic or not.
Even if we hadn’t been thrust into these “unprecedented times,” there’s no way I would have instantly made friends — friendship is one of those things that develops over time. I would have still been confused by bus routes on the Saskatoon Transit app, and there’s a very high chance that my introverted self would have studied at home instead of the library anyways.
The last two years have been far from perfect, but just because they didn’t happen exactly as I’d anticipated doesn’t mean that things are terrible right now. In reality, I’m really proud of how myself and my peers have adapted to life under these crazy circumstances.
There is some good to come out of this.
Online classes were tough, but they gave me the opportunity to figure out the academic side of university before jumping into the social side. I feel more prepared to juggle both academics and social life this year than I would have been last year.
And I still get to share tons of experiences with people my age, including taking our first in-person exams in the next couple of weeks — even if they are a year late.
The university experience isn’t what I thought it would be in high school, but I’ve realized that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m grateful for this time of my life, no matter how I experience it.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Beth is a second-year undergraduate student studying history.