Life after lockdown: what is the new normal?

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With the recent relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, I was able to meet a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while. One of the first things she said to me was, “sorry if I seem a bit weird, I think I’ve forgotten how to talk to people.” She, like many people, was unable to return to university for the entirety of the second term. I think she summed up a concern that is common in the current climate.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and, with all going well, life should be back to normal by June 21st. It is difficult to say just how easily we will slip back into some form of normality. It will be a relief, that is certain, but after over a year of isolation, normal will not seem so normal.

For younger people, Covid-19 has primarily been something that is socially limiting rather than something that elicits feelings of fear. Very few young people are affected dramatically by the illness brought on by the virus, but almost all young people have been impacted by the restrictions imposed.

New attendees of university may have seen their social worlds shrink rather than grow

The near future, for students, is undoubtedly exciting but it is also uncertain, just as the whole period of the pandemic has been uncertain. First-year students have met an extraordinarily low proportion of those who attend the same university as them. Courses have been taught online and consequently, students have almost no idea who else is on their course.

University is seen by many as an opportunity to leave the often-restrictive environment of school and take a first step into the big wide world. This has not been the case this year and new attendees of university may have seen their social worlds shrink rather than grow.

Of course, everyone who began university this year has met new people and has made new friends, but for many, there may be a sense that they are almost forced into liking the people they live with. The prospect of no escape means that they will actively seek companionship from those with whom, in normal circumstances, they may have not gotten along.

Those who sought new friends from places deemed unsafe by the government did so with a restrictive sense of trepidation. Breaking the restrictions imposed by lockdown was a risk that many were desperate enough to take in the hope of finding some semblance of the university life they had envisioned.

Some will see the lifting of restrictions as an opportunity to regain what they consider to have been a lost year. The start of university for many is supposed to be the most exciting part of their lives. The more typically outgoing students may try relentlessly to meet those who have been shielded from them by Covid-19 restrictions, leaving behind those who they have been stuck with for the beginning portion of their university experience.

Breaking the restrictions imposed by lockdown was a risk many were desperate enough to take

On the other end of the spectrum, some may have lost the desire for their old social lives and could have forgotten what it was like to be a normal student. People may have become so settled in the anxious, mask-wearing, hand-sanitising way of life that everything else seems strange or wrong.

There is no definitive way of predicting what will happen once we are let loose on the campuses of the universities we dreamed of attending. What is certain is that, once the restrictions are lifted, there will be a universal sense of relief.

The difficulty and uncertainty of lifting restrictions lie in how students intend to react to the change. For some, social distancing will have moved social interaction so far to the backs of their minds that it may take a while to remember how to talk to people. For others, Covid-19 will be a soon forgotten memory and life will go on as they envisioned. The next few months will not be easy, but they will certainly be better than the year we have just had.

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