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A Start Unlike Any Other

The world right now is living through a time of increasing turbulence and not just due to a global pandemic (he said, casually) but politically, socially, and culturally.

Naturally, this too has trickled over to our own community here at UCC.

At the time of writing the situation surrounding a return to university was up in the air. Not so much the ‘if’ – there will be a return, but more a question of ‘how’. What will this return look like?

The first image that may come to mind when first embarking upon (or returning to) college more than likely consists of meeting new (and old) friends, attending club and society events and getting fully immersed in freshers week (regardless of whether it’s your first or your final). It can be an incredibly exciting and intimidating time too – let’s not over romanticise things. There is nothing that quite compares to the experience of embarking on this next chapter while finding your feet on a buzzing campus where you’ve chosen to plant roots and, all going well, watch them grow over the coming years.

Right now, it can feel like those new beginnings (or anticipated returns) we envisaged for ourselves as students have been stolen from us. It’s bittersweet, even frustrating, putting in the hard work to earn your place only to receive what feels like a substitute for the ‘real’ thing.

If you banked a euro each time you read some variation of the term ‘unprecedented’ in each email you’ve received or article you’ve read over the last few months, you’d probably have a nice little piggy bank to help fund your coffee/red bull addiction (oh, you don’t have one? You will…) for the academic year. That being said, it would be incredibly disingenuous not to acknowledge the uncertain reality facing the majority of students heading into this academic year.

We’ve been told to prepare for ‘blended learning’ which is usually coupled with a vague description offering little in the way of reassuring us how this will manifest itself in terms of contact hours and online learning. The term has been thrown about so many times now, I’ve taken to imagining it as a literal blender – a glorified academic nutribullet if you will!

Over the summer the concoction that’s been building inside has culminated in a pretty unappetising sludge consisting of anxiety, uncertainty, vague emails of reassurance and the plethora of emotions, hopes and dreams that come with beginning or returning to college. All of this is whizzed furiously together by the cartoon villain embodiment of Covid, laughing maniacally in the background for added effect.

It’s repeated ad-nauseam to freshers all over the country when beginning their time at third level but, college truly isn’t just about the learning you do in the classroom (or, your kitchen table given current circumstances) but the connections and experience you gain outside of your studies. How these aspects take shape is going to change tremendously in the times we are living in.

Finding a ‘home’ for yourself in college is difficult at the best of times. It creates this juxtaposition of loneliness and isolation despite being surrounded by thousands of other students. We can only imagine this experience will only increase in intensity in the face of blended and remote learning. But does it need to?

This isn’t to deny our current reality and neither is it to pretend that everything will somehow be the same, it won’t be – things will be different for the foreseeable future. But, that doesn’t mean that it is not worth engaging in.

This requires ingenuity, creativity, invention. You are entitled to mourn the experiences that should’ve been, you’re allowed to be frustrated! For the sake of our own wellbeing, we mustn’t allow that feeling of loss or anger to become the defining feature of this ‘new’ world we’re living in.

The college community is in and of itself a big ‘ol blender of experiences, ideas and backgrounds. We should harness this energy and use it to reimagine our understanding of the college ‘experience’ and what it means to engage with this community for the first time and use it to create an iteration of what can be, despite our circumstances.

An opinions section is only as good as the diversity of voices it represents. You may be just a slither of an idea, a fully-fledged story or a concept in the works. Whatever it is, let’s talk about it! opinion@uccexpress.ie