Uni during a pandemic is hard. Third year, when the work gets hardest and the deadlines matter the most, would be hard anyway. Third year as part of the Covid cohort? Feels almost undoable. Add in the perception that students should just be used to living in a pandemic at this point and it’s not going to affect our grades, the constant lockdowns and uncertainty over what’s happening, the fear of you, your family or friends getting ill and the social and physical isolation that are all part of the pandemic, and it feels like an impossible mountain to climb.
It’s hard not to feel angry about the situation. Like everyone else, there’s so much we’re missing – and it goes without saying that I know everyone has lost something in this pandemic, and I don’t mean to disregard the sacrifices everyone is making. But it feels particularly bittersweet to have lost one of the most formative years of my life, and the start of my twenties. I entered lockdown aged 19, and it’s looking like I’ll be 21 before life is back to normal. I know nights out, socialising, pub trips and everything will return eventually – but we won’t be in the same place to enjoy them. I’ll have different responsibilities, likely a different location, and almost certainly a different group of people around me. This is a natural part of finishing university – you graduate, you stay in touch with some people, and others fade away. But those people that fade away are often the ones that, without realising it, make up an integral part of your social experience. The people you barely speak to sober, but who you recognise and happily hug on nights out. The extended group you go to the pub with, but who you aren’t quite close with to go on a walk with during lockdown. The people you walk to lectures with and gossip about lecturers with but don’t see anymore when they aren’t part of the naturally woven tapestry of your life.
I have mixed feelings about the first night out after the pandemic. I’m almost certain it’s not going to happen before I graduate, or before we all pack up and leave our uni houses. Nights out at uni are unique, the heady cocktail of experiencing your students’ union turned into something resembling a club, bumping into so many people you know because everyone is in the same place on a Saturday night, home only being a twenty minute stumble away via the takeaway at 3am. Once we graduate, only a few of my friends will still be here – enough to have a great night out with, sure, but it won’t be the same experience, and in a way I’m already grieving that.
Student neighbourhoods get a lot of flack but honestly, I love mine. Don’t get me wrong, my neighbours piss me off and it’s not the nicest area, but there’s a sense of community about living somewhere almost entirely populated by people your age, with similar priorities and motivations and worries. It feels like a bubble, a transitional stage prior to entering the ‘real world’, where the most important thing is getting a ticket for the right night out and securing a seat in the nicest study space on campus. With so much of my second and third year taken up by lockdowns and restrictions on what we can do and where we can go, it feels as though I’m not ready to leave this bubble yet. I’m not ready to move out of a house of six into a smaller flatshare, to work according to someone else’s schedule rather than organising my time as I like, to expand my life beyond this familiar rotation of the supermarket, the park, my favourite café, campus. Maybe I would feel like this without the pandemic, I don’t know. It just feels like I’ve missed out on so many experiences that just won’t be the same after graduating, and I can’t help but mourn their loss, months before I have to say my final goodbyes.