In the sinking ship that is 2020, it sometimes feels like us students are being left to save ourselves, while also being blamed for the fact that the ship’s going down. Especially in recent weeks, as students have been making the headlines in relation to cases rising. This isn’t supposed to be a pity party or a moan, it’s just the pandemic through our eyes; what it’s really like to be a university student during the coronavirus pandemic.

All the way back at the start of March, COVID-19 didn’t even seem that big of a deal in the UK, even when perhaps it was becoming more and more of an issue. It felt almost as if we were in our own bubble at university, and as we all gradually started to move back home for lockdown, we began to realise the scale of the problem up and down the country. I was lucky enough to be in first year and living in university halls, because we were told that we wouldn’t have to pay rent for the rest of the semester if we moved out of our accommodation, meaning that we could keep the majority of our maintenance loan for ourselves (every cloud has a silver lining, I guess).

what it's really like at uni during covid-19
The night we were told we wouldn’t have to pay rent – happy and carefree pre-lockdown

However, the decision didn’t feel that easy. As much as we all knew we needed to go home to our families, we were being told to say goodbye to our friends for at least six months. Bear in mind these were the people we’d spent all day everyday living with! Obviously, we knew there were more important things going on in the world than us missing half a semester, you know like a whole pandemic, but in the moment, it was devastating.

So, after a lot of goodbyes, crying and packing, I moved back home to isolate with my family, and carry on studying. I moved home on Monday 23rd March; so literally as I got home our Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown – to say my parents were relieved to have me home was an understatement. From where I was sat though, the best year of my life had been put on hold, and my April birthday had effectively been cancelled! After a while, I managed to settle into a routine of studying, zoom quizzes and (sometimes) my allotted daily exercise.

For the first two months of lockdown, we still had online lectures and seminars to take part in alongside several coursework essays, before “exam season” started. For me exam season involved two out of three modules’ exams being cancelled, and my only exam being the take-home-exam I was already supposed to have regardless of COVID. This probably seems like any student’s dream, but from my perspective, I was paying obscene amounts of money for basically nothing.

Fast forward three months to September, and after a summer of cancellations, I could finally move back to university. I’d been waiting patiently for this for the last six months; it finally felt like life might be returning to normal. Throughout lockdown, one of my main motivations was thinking about the reunion with my friends. Finally seeing them in person, after many hours of facetime and zoom quizzes was one of the most surreal feelings!

uni during covid-19
The ‘new normal’

For the first few weeks after I moved back, everything felt relatively normal. Apart from big nights out and house parties, we could do pretty much everything we did before, just with masks on. I felt lucky in that my university teaching only started recently, giving us over a month to enjoy ourselves and make up for the time we lost in semester two last year. We even did things we didn’t get round to in first year; including a trip to the beach; go karting and even expanding our cooking skills beyond spaghetti bolognaise and instant noodles. Although we did miss the excitement of pres and a big night out, we’d begun to settle into this new normal lifestyle of going to the pub or simply staying in with our friends and housemates.

But then as cases rose, things started to take a turn for the worse. As new rules are gradually being introduced, it feels almost as though we are back to where we started in March, just before we left. In Liverpool, households aren’t allowed to mix inside, on top of the rule of six and 10pm curfew. It is easy to see how isolating this could be for some students, especially those in first year, who aren’t as settled into university yet or aren’t living with their close friends. It feels almost as if these restrictions have been put in place without any regard for our mental health. University-living is intense; you could be living with your best friends, but sometimes you may feel like strangling them, and need to get out of the house with someone who you’re not under the same roof as 24/7.

Throughout lockdown, I received the occasional email from my university explaining how they were working to try and create solutions to these unprecedented circumstances. Despite this I was still confused about pretty much every aspect of teaching. When I finally received my timetable at the end of September, I was only timetabled to be on campus once a week and the rest online. My course has low contact hours anyway, so while I was slightly disappointed, I was not at all surprised. Then last week, just before teaching was due to start, I, along with every other University of Liverpool student, received an email to tell us that all face-to-face teaching was being moved online until at least the end of October. Obviously, I know this is for everyone’s safety, but it’s still frustrating to think I’m paying £9250 for an online university course – it’s not the service I signed up for at all.

So far, I’ve only had one day of teaching which is clearly not enough to judge it by; but I can tell from my own experience and that of my friends, housemates and course mates, that this year is going to be a rollercoaster. My own ‘workshops’ (basically lectures) ran smoothly enough; whereas one friend described it as ‘the worst day of her life’; another told how she was refused entry to her own zoom meeting; and one housemate said his lecturer didn’t even turn up to zoom. Who knows how the rest of the semester will turn out!

On top of all this stress, none of us know when we’ll be able to see our family without being socially distanced. I’m not even talking grandparents, aunts and uncles here, it’s our own parents and siblings who we won’t be able to see properly until Christmas, and potentially not even then! Luckily, University of Liverpool is offering free testing for all students travelling home before Christmas – so I’ll be alright, unless I test positive. I know my family is only ever a phone call away, but it can feel isolating to think I can’t just nip home for the weekend if I need a break from university life.

uni during covid-19
We’re still making the most of our uni experience, with 2-4-1 cocktails

So, while I do feel like I’m making the best out of this very strange situation, I can’t help but ask you to spare a thought for all of us students, stranded away from home, isolated from our friends, and paying £9k for an online degree. And if you’re a student like me, make sure to look out for your friends, but also take care of yourself both physically and mentally.