Looking Back at a Very Turbulent Year: Part I
Written by: Rawan El Moghrabi, 3rd Year Software Engineering Student
Last March, I left campus on a Friday afternoon thinking I'd have a two-week break from school before starting exams and going on summer break. Much like everyone else, I did not expect to endure this socially isolating lockdown indefinitely. Even in the summer, I still thought there was hope for an in-person semester this year. Like every other student, I held my breath and waited to see what Western would do and what learning module they would implement. At the time, a combination of in-person and online learning was selected.
Beginning Online Learning:
If I'm being really honest, I had hoped that my first semester would be completely online rather than having to travel to campus for only one or two courses out of the six that I had. And I got lucky, or so I thought, and all my classes for the first semester ended up being online.
We started the semester in September not knowing what to expect. Nobody had ever done this many online classes at once. Even the professors were in unfamiliar territory. But it wasn’t just the courses that worried me. There was also joining clubs, trying to stay connected and involved, and applying for internships for the following year. The first week of school went rather smoothly, but even then, it was overwhelming. There was so much to do, so much to keep track of, and so much uncertainty. To say we were struggling to adjust is an understatement. Looking back, the pressure I put on myself in the beginning to do as many things as I could was unhealthy to say the least. But you know what they say, “hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Despite my being overwhelmed, I still attempted to make this year as normal as possible; I returned to my job on campus, joined clubs, and attended virtual events. It took a lot of planning and I must have spent a solid week just organizing what my life was gonna look like. Eventually, I figured out a schedule that worked for me and even incorporated virtual study sessions with my friends.
The New Normal:
My schedule was pretty detailed with time allocated for lectures, on-campus work, extracurriculars, study sessions, and of course, breaks. But my new normal was not normal at all. For one thing, it was very hard to focus on studying in an environment that’s usually dedicated to relaxing. There was no demarcation between study time and rest time because they usually happened in the same place. This meant that my rest time was not relaxing, and my study time was often unproductive. This was one of the things that made a hectic year even worse. The merging of my rest time with my study time was debilitating and any activities I attempted didn’t seem to reverse the fatigue. Not to mention that online events just weren’t as good as in-person events. Often, they would simply be exhausting. After a long day of zoom lectures and virtual study sessions with friends, hopping on more zoom meetings for clubs and events just wasn’t the fulfilling break that I needed. Although my schedule included study breaks, sometimes there was just too much to do. The little breaks where I met with my closest friends to walk or hang out were the only activities helping to ease my anxiety. It didn’t help that my already unconventional sleeping schedule became even more erratic during the pandemic. While previously I held onto the little bit of hope that the second semester might not be completely online, with cases in Ontario rising and London experiencing many outbreaks, I had to admit that the second semester was not gonna be any better. My hopes for a better semester were met with disappointment especially after the announcement of the provincewide stay-at-home order.
By the time the December lockdown started, things were looking very bleak for second semester. First semester had just finished, and I was experiencing zoom fatigue. But there was little to do to distract from the past semester’s exhaustion and recharge to get ready for next semester. The province was in a mandatory lockdown and everything, with the exception of grocery stores, was closed. The only escape was going outdoors if you could ignore the cold weather, or going grocery shopping. Neither of which made for very relaxing options. And under the strict lockdown rules, gatherings were also restricted which meant that all social activity no matter how small was restricted. I had thought that by the time the second semester started I would be energized again but that was not the case. The lockdown was exhausting in and of itself. It contributed to my demotivation and took away whatever little energy I had left. Now I must admit I sought out whatever little pleasures I could find mainly in the form of online shopping and watching Netflix. I tried to schedule some virtual social activity with friends but honestly, we were all just really sick of looking at our computers. Zoom fatigue had peaked even during Christmas break. Luckily, western extended the Christmas break which was a moment of joy and triumph for all students. Getting to sleeping for longer and delaying the stress of the semester was a very welcome measure. Even if all it did was delay the inevitable. With the cases in Ontario still rising and lockdown in full effect, it was confirmed that all second-semester classes will be online. The signs were present early on but I guess I really didn't wanna believe that we will not be going back this year. Still, I tried to walk into the second semester with a positive attitude and some enthusiasm for my new classes.
Check out Part II of Rawan's story, or check out some similar blogs:
In Part II of Rawan's blog, she realizes if she can get through this pandemic, she can get through anything.
In this blog, Vanessa reflects on her journey through the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this blog, Johann opens up about the isolating nature of online school and provincial lockdowns.