By Claudia M. Zedda

If two years ago someone told you the entire world was going to shut down completely for months, nobody would have believed it. Despite this, today we are just after coming out of three lockdowns and a brand new lifestyle that did not really belong to us. Masks, sanitisers and social distancing were definitely not part of our everyday vocabulary, while now that is all we hear about. We are a lot more conscious of things such as disease transmission, symptoms, cases and deaths, that we almost find impossible to chat about something that does not concern Covid-19. 

As students, we might all agree to say that these past two years majorly affected our physical and mental health. We missed an entire year of on-campus college and replaced it with online learning, and we have met new fellow college students through screens. The rooms we sleep in have never looked so small, and going for a 5 km walk has never been so exciting. It has been a rough time for everyone, but here we are today. Quarantine might have been horrible, but it gave us the most precious thing of all: time. We have all been so caught up in our own routines that we never realised we did not have time. Time to reflect, decide and act. How many times have you said to yourself “I wish I had more time”? And how many times did you just take a day for yourself without having to work or study?

We have reconsidered doing all those things we always wanted to do but were never on our to-do lists. Gardening, playing the guitar, doing origami, running, drawing and maybe even reading the book that has been on the shelf for ten years. We finally had time to reflect on ourselves, and many even realised that what they were doing did not really suit them anymore. We changed our mindset, jobs and friendships. We cut our own hair and appreciated sunsets more than ever before. 

In college, many students felt like they needed to be more connected with others. Societies and clubs have played a huge role in connecting people with similar interests, particularly when it was so hard to casually meet up on campus. Even if we almost felt sick looking at the screen for so long, we truly appreciated its power for the very first time. We did not let quarantine stop us: we kept holding events, discussion panels and conferences. We managed to invite speakers from other parts of the world to talk for UCC. We held social nights and had virtual cheers together (and it was probably the highlight of our day). Even though we did feel lonely and uncertain about the future, we always had the possibility to reach out.

After all, we have been through, going back to campus will be a piece of cake. Even if we might feel a bit agoraphobic at the beginning, it will feel like going back to where we belong. Seeing so many people at once might be scary at first, particularly if your cactus was the only close contact you have had in a while. On the other hand, sitting down between your classmates and feeling like you are actually learning something is priceless. We are going back to college with a different mindset and willing to start again, without forgetting what it was like before. If you are scared or anxious about going back to a “normal” routine, just know you are not alone. We have all been through isolation and loneliness, apart but together. 

Despite being the most uncertain years of our lives, let’s not forget the positive outcomes that quarantine has brought to us. From picking up a new hobby to learning a new language, from going for a morning jog to meditating, all of us have finally dedicated some time to ourselves. We should not underestimate how meaningful that is. A generation of people that had it all in the comfort of their own home, but recognised the importance of social, physical and emotional connection. 

UCC is ready to start again and welcome all of you back to campus, in a place where diversity is celebrated, and ideas are discussed and brought to life. As Opinion Editor of the UCC Express, I want to let you know that your opinion is precious, no matter who you are or where you come from. If you think you would like to share your opinion and write your own piece, please email opinion@uccexpress.ie and help us represent as many students as possible. I cannot wait to hear what you have to say and get your name published out there. 

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