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College in a time of Covid

 By Roisin Noonan

And so, begins another year. “La rentrée” or the return as the French say. Classes, timetables, assignments, exams. In previous years these words induced a sense of dread and fear perhaps, of wishing they would just up and disappear. End of summer thoughts creeping in like that Sunday night Glenroe theme tune. 

But this year, a very different vibe is being felt across campus. One of excitement, maybe a nervous excitement. A kind of giddiness at returning to campus and in person classes and lectures for the first time in 18 months. An RTE radio programme last week interviewed Students Union’s from around the country, including our own SU President Asha Woodhouse. All of the people interviewed spoke of the unusual and unique semester that lies ahead of us and they all expressed their unbridled joy and relief to finally be back on campus again. 

Between people coming to campus for the first time ever and others for the first time in a long time, there really is such a mix of different experiences happening for everyone this semester. There are first years experiencing college for the first time in a completely unique way to anyone who has stepped through the 3rd level gates before them. There are 2nd years having a 1st-year experience.  Despite having completed a year of college online, many are setting foot in UCC for the first time ever as students. Some students like myself, are returning from Erasmus abroad last year. I left Cork in March 2020 as a second year and now return to campus and to Cork for the first time in 18 months as a fourth year!

The nature of college will be so very different for everyone this semester. With split lecture groups, reduced capacity classes, and the blended/hybrid system of in person and online teaching. Without a doubt, it will take some getting used to and will probably be open to change or modification as the public health situation is likely to change over the coming months. 

This in turn means a very different student experience from the one we were used to when we all left campus in early 2020. Meeting up with friends, nights out, clubs and socs events, RAG week and freshers are all going to look very different to how they did before. 

I found myself making reservations with my friend group for Fresher’s week. Reservations. Yes indeed. If you had told me that in my First year, I would most certainly not have believed you. It makes a huge change from the queues outside nightclubs and bars that we were all too familiar with. Gone are the days of hopping from one nightclub to another or running to join another queue after the bouncer had decided that the person in front of you had just managed to tip the cut off point for filling the nightclub. 

While some may look at these changes with a pessimistic outlook, others including myself will welcome them. Our lectures may be smaller and it may take a while to get used to the hybrid way of teaching but the mix of online/in person may prove to be a more effective way of studying for some people. Especially for those whom the work from home or pre-recorded lectures were more accessible or beneficial.  Our nights out will look different, but maybe they will turn out to be more enjoyable too, with better chats and conversations over dinners or drinks. Don’t get me wrong, I am dying for a good boogie on the dancefloor as much as anyone else, but I guess the message is patience, slow and steady. It will all come again in time. We just have to approach it all with a glass half full mentality for the moment. 

The Students Union along with Student Health are running many campaigns and initiatives this year to help students to have a safe and healthy return to campus. Unicov is one of these initiatives. This is a pilot study on antigen testing which is being conducted across several Irish universities this year and UCC students are being encouraged to sign up. Participating students will antigen test themselves at different intervals throughout the semester and upload the results to an app that has been formulated to accompany the study. The main aim is to analyse the feasibility and capability of people to self-test and to interpret test results themselves. The study is being used as a key element to help to implement a safe and sustainable return of students to campus. 

The UCC covid tracker app is designed to help students monitor and recognise symptoms of covid 19 and is another measure being encouraged by UCC to help with the return to campus.  More information on both of these campaigns is available on the UCC Students Union and UCC Keep Well social media pages. 

As we enter into the unknown of this new college experience, we should remember that we are all coming back to UCC as very different people to those who left two years ago. We have all changed and grown and had very different experiences over the last two years. Give people a chance. Give yourself a chance. Don’t put pressure on yourself to try to slot back into what your college life was pre covid. 

Reminders to look after yourself and your mental health this year are ever more pertinent. Go easy on yourself. And go easy on your friends and classmates. Some students and staff may be worried for themselves or for family members in their care. Not everyone will be ready to up and move forward and out into the world again at the same pace or the same time.  From first-year nerves to final year stress, we are not all in the same boat but we are treading the same waters and respect for each other is key.


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