Recently, while going through a journal I keep irregularly and write in spontaneously, I came across an entry I wrote in early May. Many of the details are mundane: “MAY 4th … quarantine is still ongoing, but at least the weather is nice.” Later in the entry I contemplate the coronavirus (as most are likely to do during any period of 2020), and I reflect on the what-could-have-been: natural for people who have spent a vast amount of time confined to their houses, with all of their plans disrupted. One sentence in particular struck a chord with me, and made me reel in my college bedroom as I considered how all non-essential campus activity this year has been cancelled under Government regulations announced 25th September, “I feel intense grief over the lost life I had planned. Within, is a gaping hole that has formed as a result of all the experiences that have been dashed from me.”
Of course, back in May I was still recovering from my Erasmus being unexpectedly cut short. On a personal level I felt a great devastation but understood the priority of public safety over personal gain. Feelings of misery always lingered at the back of my conscience: Where would I have been right at that moment if the pandemic hadn’t started? Would I have started packing for my summer working in Canada already? At the time it was easy to get caught up in those feelings and many people understandably did. With great strain, I managed to persevere beyond looping through the “what-if’s” of life but did fall prey now and again. Thankfully, a few weeks later society began to progress to the new-normal we are all still adjusting to, even still, on a daily basis.
In a world of unease and uncertainty, many third-level institutions – University College Cork included – prepared their campuses for an influx of students for the new academic year. Measures put in place on campus were implemented to ensure adequate social distancing for the majority of people: limits to numbers of people per room, rotas for physical lectures, distance between seating areas, specific walking directions for halls. While many people were still adjusting to their new timetable: analysing whether departments would continue with lectures physically on campus or online; or if labs would be taking place at all; or realising that their own faculty would have a limited amount of physical lectures, the government announced that all non-essential campus activity would no longer take place. With this announcement came outrage from many students across the country: on the one hand understanding the need for public safety is a priority, but ensuring the majority of students pay fees and acquire accommodation before announcing such a statement was viewed as a form of swindling by government officials.
With campus life being disrupted again for what seems to be the foreseeable future, I can’t help but ponder the narratives of campus life that have been disrupted, or never even got the chance to begin in the first place. Delving into the depths of first year campus drama to final year library stress, it is a shame to see that part of the student experience be terminated.
Studies have proven that many students, when beginning a degree are more likely to see it through until the end when attending physical lectures. Reasons for this include the collective social progression of a course: possibly seeing your classmates also struggle with the same module. Motivation from peers in your class is also derived from lectures taking place in person – all of these things are something which can prove difficult when facing a class of grey slate in Microsoft teams as the lecturer shares their information.
For those in first year, it is unfortunate that the full campus experience is not something you will get to experience anytime in 2020. I empathise with you in your loss – it is disheartening to have campus craic dashed from you. Gone are the joys of Freshers’ Week: of strolling past Boole’s head, getting flyer upon flyer forced upon you by clubs and socs looking to up their membership-count, of the days of the O’Conaill’s hot chocolate van and the live music and repulsing iron stomach competition.
Campus life is about getting lost – not being able to traverse the mirrored floorpan of O’Rahilly Building or not being able to find Boole 6 or the hidden Elements in the Western Gateway Building. It is about mourning the loss of the Chicken Club Sandwich and sweating profusely in stuffy lecture theatres. Campus life is about being called out by your lecturer for needing to go to the bathroom mid-lecture. Obviously, it is about learning, but what makes it important is the social interactions. Whispering about the night before during a seminar or bumping into a person you haven’t seen in ages, going for coffee in Coffee Dock and realising why you prefer Bobo Cafe in the Glucksman (RIP Bobo Cafe, 2020).
Another disappointing aspect is the loss of possible love-opportunities. Although you may not want to admit it, many people come to college expecting to find love, or love of some sorts – of course this is always disappointing for many people most years (life is not a John Hughes movie unfortunately). Those lucky few it has worked for in previous years, can be grateful for the opportunity meeting someone on campus provided them – this is not the case for people returning to college this year, and might leave many wondering “What if the 2020/21 academic year was when I’d finally meet someone on campus?” Campus is also about going to Boole library, not to study but specifically going to see your library crush on Boole 3. A pressing issue this year is how incoming first years are supposed to find their library boyfriend/girlfriend and how are returning students supposed to progress things further with theirs?
Campus is a place for you to not only explore new things but to also meet new people. For many people, it will be their first time branching outside of their home or secondary school bubble. It’s about creating bonds with classmates and lecturers, getting your first invite to a College Road gaffer, forming lasting connections which will likely continue well beyond the college years.
But maybe this isn’t all a negative thing. Sure, it’s not what anybody was expecting this time last year, but in such unprecedented, unstable times people are to be admired for their perseverance in almost every aspect of society. Lecturers are trying their best to ensure that lectures go as planned and as scheduled per timetables through the use of online resources, clubs and socs are constantly evolving the ways in which they function and participate. Thoughts of Zoom quizzes probably make you feel physically ill by now, but socially distanced gatherings and guideline-compliant meetings are better than what we experienced before during the strictest months of lockdown.
Talks of a strict lockdown happening again may be worrying for some students in UCC – not only is it distressing facing the possibility of a legally limited social routine and travel radius again, but for many who live up in college, some might find themselves returning home to households which may not be too supportive or welcoming. Life is hard, especially in home environments not matching your own personal needs and the escape to campus and a city like Cork is what many people need to thrive and flourish on their own for the first time in their lives. Campus is an escape and something, which for the time being will be dearly missed.
In our new society, and amongst our generation, will there forever be a longing for what could have been? In years to come will you still occasionally wonder who you could have met or what you may have done differently had the world not been disrupted by Covid-19? Will the opportunities stricken from us by coronavirus have long-lasting effects? Will you now find yourself in a completely different career path, one you weren’t expecting at all? Will you have formed tighter friendships amongst the college friends than you had pre-pandemic friendships, ones that may only have been transient before but will now last long beyond the academic years? Will the loss of certain opportunities cause us, and the people we surround ourselves with, to be more grateful of the everyday, more appreciative of the once mundane actions.
As humans we are continuously progressing and evolving to make the situations we find ourselves in most ideal. Love and friendship and methods of entertainment change constantly to facilitate our needs: none of these things are being left behind. What is happening and will continue to happen for the foreseeable future is a new way in which we communicate all of our hopes and aspirations to one another, love will evolve with the times, and so will our social gatherings. It is not in our nature to spend our time in solitude and advancing technologies and opportunities will ensure nobody will find themselves wallowing in their own sadness forever. We thrive and feed off the energy of one another, and during tough, challenging times, it is the support of each other that will get us through what we were least expecting. Look out for one another, it’s worth it.