First semester in the flesh since March 2020

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While the human connection of an in-person semester was much missed, we could have done without the long lines at Tim Horton's. Lee Lim

COVID changed everything, including the college experience

During the summer of 2018, I was getting prepared to start university in fall of the same year. Excited, I made sure to purchase a planner, a new wardrobe, to re-decorate my room, and attempt to plan my future in university. By the fall of 2019, COVID was slowly spreading, although classes were still in person. March of 2020 was a life-changing moment for everyone I know, as it was when classes switched to online. Furthermore, we went into a pretty extensive social distancing period.

I went into university expecting the traditional model of academia, and all I received in return was a few lousy years of online classes, increased tuition, inflation, and depression. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would have to wake up every morning to attend classes on Zoom university, yet there we were (and still are, for some of us, as classes are not yet fully in-person). The last two years still feel like a fever dream to me. I’m still getting used to in-person classes. I have no idea how we all did in-person exams without any hassle.

Today, the very idea of sitting in a room with cameras for three hours doing an exam meant to measure my worth sends shivers down my spine. Proctored classes are even worse in my opinion. I would rather mow the lawn with tweezers than take a proctored class. Scratch that, I would rather mop the ocean with a toothbrush than take a proctored class. I can’t think of anything more anxiety-inducing and disturbing than having an AI watch my every move. Now that I’m taking an in-person class, I still have no idea how the in-person exams will go. I can only hope that I don’t have a panic attack in the middle of a multiple-choice question. Only time will tell.

The best way to prepare for a new semester is to plan ahead. I love using planners, as they help me stay organized; it’s how I keep track of all of my due dates. If you prefer doing things digitally, Notion is a wonderful platform to stay organized and be on top of your work. As a fourth-year student, I’m already in the middle of assignments, papers, and projects. I have seen so many people focus on having the college experience as shown in films and on TV, but the truth is that those are all fantasies. University is different in real life, and nobody should aspire for it to go the way it is televised on the big screen.

Moreover, I wish people would just let go of the concept of a college experience altogether. It creates unnecessary pressure. As we’ve learned from COVID, the college experience varies from person to person. It will never be the same for any two people. The important thing is to realize that, although it is important to forge bonds, connections, and network, you are mostly there for your degree – everything else is an added bonus. Take advantage of the money you are paying by maximizing your potential and focusing on yourself and your goals. For many immigrants, we are the first people in our families to go to university, and that is a role that should be taken very seriously.

However, it is important to find time for yourself daily. A lack of self-care and rest is the quickest way to burn out in the middle of the semester. It could be watching your favourite show for an hour, or cooking, or taking a nap in the middle of the day to refresh your brain, or buying your favourite Starbucks drink as a treat. University is a chapter in life that is extremely challenging. It is emotionally, mentally, physically, and even financially taxing. Although I’m in school every day, I will often check my calendar and take a day off whenever I can to stay home, sleep in, and get some much-needed rest. It’s difficult for me to work when I’m tired. My best ideas come when I’m well-rested, and my brain works better on more hours of sleep whenever I can squeeze some in. Of course, there will always be days when all-nighters are necessary. On those nights, I focus on doing the best I can, avoiding heavy meals that will put me to sleep. Instead, I focus on my energy uptake. After an all-nighter, I make sure to get some much-needed rest the next day to recharge my batteries.

Ultimately, we are all going through this at the same time, collectively. It’s a human experience and there is definitely a learning curve. The more you know better, the more you will do better. First-year me and fourth-year me are two completely different people. If there was one thing I could tell current freshman students, it would be to make use of the advisors available to you, hone your cooking skills, or learn to cook if you don’t know how to (it’s a life skill), talk to professors in your faculty to build rapport with them, and just take it easy. Relax. You don’t have to have it all figured out, most people don’t. Embrace the process and you will learn to adapt to the change and all of its nuances. COVID has changed the lives of millions, and we are still dealing with the aftermath to this day. It has made the already complicated model of university even more complicated. Thus, it is incumbent on everyone to understand that what we are going through is not normal, and it is okay if it has changed you. Moreover, it’s okay to miss the person you used to be pre-COVID. The good thing is now we have the space to cultivate the best version of ourselves we want to be.

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