The year 2020 will be frequently referred to for many years to come, and it seems as though 2021 is heading in the same di- rection. University is supposed to be a time to party, make lifelong friendships, and delve into a subject of your choice. But this year, the priorities have changed.
There has been much debate on which year group has it worse. When the second and third years began at Durham University, they had no idea what was to come; at least first years had some perspective. The second and third years had some normality in their university experience, while first years have not had any yet. The debate could go back and forth. The main point is that it is difficult for everyone. University students have been let down by their government; our situation is rarely discussed in Boris Johnson’s announcements, we were blamed for increases in Covid-19 cases, and we are still set to pay the same amount for our tuition despite teaching being online.
The main issue for Freshers this year is how Covid-19 has affected making friends. The random assignment of students to households was a terrible choice. There was a pressure to get on with those who happen to live nearby, and punishments if you wanted to explore friendships beyond them. Isolation was necessary and freshers had to spend an unhealthy amount of time with people we barely knew. At least second and third years to a certain extent got to choose who they were isolated with. Suddenly, pretty inedible food was being delivered, and students who were ill could not get any medicine.
Different colleges had completely dis- similar attitudes towards household and isolation rules. While in certain colleges students were only allowed to spend twenty minutes on a specific part of the college campus, other students did not have such a close eye on them. The same is true of the rule that freshers were to spend their first few nights in college; some students could go wherever they liked, while others were questioned on their whereabouts. It felt like students in different colleges were at completely different universities, which fostered a slight hostility between those in stricter colleges and those in more lenient ones.
Friendships were also affected by not having many, if any, in-person seminars and lectures. According to second and third years, it was brilliant to meet like-minded people reading the same subject as you, and great being able to keep your work on track by checking what you were supposed to do with your peers. Over Zoom it is difficult to make friendships as it is challenging to connect with someone through a screen, and because there is not an opportunity to chat without a lecturer or tutor present. Group chats can be made, but that takes confidence to privately message someone and ask for numbers, and certainly not a confidence that I possess or anyone in my tutorials or seminars as of yet. Maybe this is not the worst thing, as texting someone is so different to hanging out in person.
So much of life is spent online recently, and there is more time to think than ever before. Comparison is inevitable, particularly when people mainly post content where they are enjoying themselves. Now more than ever, there is an opportunity to question whether your experience so far should have been different. It is a shame that this year has panned out the way that it has. There is a reason why so many students apply to Durham: it is a great university, but this year is not even half of what it could have been.
Image credits: Honor Douglass