A final year student writes a lament for the good times gone.

 

Dear University Experience,

 

During our time together, I sustained good grades but also greatly enjoyed your social side– a good work-life balance you could say. Like many students, I had filled the months of 2020 with many ambitions and wishes – I planned to travel, to work, to spend time with friends, to attend numerous festivals and outdoor events, and to complete final year. You promised me a lot. 

 

The closure of Ireland in March came as a seismic shock – I felt scared and confused. The possible imposition of draconian measures, rumours of the enforcement of lockdown by the army, the shortage of toilet paper – there were threats on every corner. Thinking back, I wish I savoured that ‘last week of college’ more but there is nothing I nor anyone can do to change that. We are blessed to have social media in the time of a pandemic. Yet, no FaceTime or Zoom call can replace going for lunch with friends in Main Rest, or going on student nights out, or simply walking around Cork City. 

 

The summer job I was accepted for – out of business. The holidays and festivals I planned to attend – all cancelled. The customer care job I felt lucky to secure caused me to dread going into work due to the toxic environment, rude customers etc. I was never a frequent smoker, yet the stress and mental toll of the job caused me to smoke four-five times a week. Other personal issues demanded to be dealt with over the course of the year which filled me with much dread and unsettled me for weeks. I felt like I was slowly drowning, under pressure from my employment and my personal life. I confided in friends, but neither they nor I could not control the factors causing my mental health to deteriorate. 

 

Online learning became the status quo for you, university experience. Meaning that the final year of my degree would be spent at home, in my childhood bedroom, studying hours away from some of my closest friends in the world who made you the best years I could have wished for. I was devastated. I cried myself to sleep that night after hearing the announcement. At a hair appointment, I got my long dark locks chopped. A mention of university and the host city I became so fond of caused tears to well in my eyes. I struggled with the news and hoped after a few weeks I could visit friends in Cork – anything to look forward to. Lockdown 2.0 halted that idea before it even took flight. The lecturers seem to sympathise with students – online learning is far from the university experience they had. 

 

The pandemic has forced me to deal with the realisation that I need people. I loved you, precedented times – it was an omnisocial experience, and I basked in it. Without social interaction, I feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness and disillusionment. Ironically, I am not alone in my feeling alone. Online learning has collectively drained students of motivation and energy. Mental health supports have witnessed an exponential rise in demand for services owing to the pandemic. It is hard to envisage a world without COVID-19, of crowded nightclubs, of packed planes to Greece, of holiday visas for across the Atlantic. 

 

I am coping better now, having met with friends when restrictions eased. It has given me a sense of hope. The friends that supported me, guided me, and made me laugh at the darkest hour of the pandemic are ones I will forever cherish. 

 

Perhaps this pandemic has not been all that bad. It gave us a chance to take the foot off the gas, re-evaluate ourselves, and focus on what is important. I still miss you, normal, drunken, spontaneous, stressful, packed Boole Lectures, College Road nights, University Experience. 

 

Yours,

 

A Final Year Student

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