student typing seen through shattered glass
Posted: April 22, 2020 at 8:29 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

by Erinn Sturgeon

There is no downplaying the major effect that the Coronavirus pandemic is having on people around the globe, university students included. For those of us who thought we’d be in a classroom knocking off a final exam right about now, the complications have been innumerable: Courses cancelled or transferred online, roommates who don’t take social distancing seriously (and are impossible to avoid), and airports closed to international flights, making it difficult for some students to return home.

In times like these, it’s important to know that we’re not alone, even in isolation. Incline reached out to some university students on Vancouver Island, plus one international student who did manage to get home, to listen to their stories and concerns, and learn how they are coping.

Danika Morpak

Fourth-year anthropology student, University of Victoria.

On the loss of face-to-face classes:

“I haven’t had very many problems. In one of my classes, [we] had already finished the lectures, so we only had presentations left. It sucked because we didn’t get to do our presentations, but as far as the learning went, it was still pretty good. For my other class, [my professor] was basically like, ‘Okay, we’re just going to stop here,’ and I hadn’t done very well in the beginning because it was Spanish, so it was completely brand new for me. I was disappointed that I didn’t get the chance to do better.”

How she’s been affected by the pandemic:

“My grandpa passed away about two weeks ago now. So that was really tough, because everybody has to keep so much distance right now, and when you’re going through something like this, you just want to be close to everybody. It was really tough having to do the burial—half of his grandkids couldn’t be there, his brother and sister couldn’t be there. At the funeral we had to stand six feet apart, and it was just so horrible. We were all wearing face masks, and it just made the situation feel so much worse.”

What helps her cope?

“I’ve actually been spending a lot of time outside. When we were in Kamloops [for the funeral], we would go out every day and do a walk, whether that was just around the neighbourhood or down a trail, and that was really nice. You can keep pretty good distance from people outside. So mostly just being out in the sun—it can feel so exhausting being inside. It’s so stuffy. And my guinea pigs, they help.”

How has UVic been handling the situation?

“At first I was getting a little frustrated, because it felt like they were waiting for someone to get infected to actually close. Like when my grandpa was still alive, we were all thinking we didn’t want to get infected so that we could go see him. So for me it was really frustrating, being like ‘Why aren’t we closing?’ But they dealt with that, and since then I’ve been feeling pretty supported—especially since they introduced the pass/fail option. That takes a lot of stress off, especially for my Spanish. I’m an Honours student, so I’m concerned about my GPA. I don’t have any student loans, so I know it’s probably easier on me than for other people right now. So personally I feel like it’s been okay for me. The President of the university was supposed to retire this year, but he’s decided to stay on until this all blows over.” 

Bailey Branscombe

Fourth-year creative writing student, Vancouver Island University.

On the loss of face-to-face classes:

“For the most part I’ve been pretty lucky, because the only physical class I had was my English class. I was doing one online class, and then a directed study. It’s still been interesting, though—I’m at home, I’m not going to work, I don’t have any structure now. The first few days I was like, ‘Oh, I’m home now, I can do chores and garden and stuff,’ and then Animal Crossing came out, and I did that for a week. Then it was schoolwork. Then it hits you: Existential crisis time.”

How she’s been affected by the pandemic:

“Well, it’s Easter weekend. For the last three or four years, I always go up and visit my mom in Ucluelet; my grandparents are there and she’s there. I don’t get to do that now. I was telling her today, ‘We need to FaceTime,’ because whenever I drove to class [from Duncan to Nanaimo] I would have a Bluetooth conversation with her in the car, so I was talking to her once or twice a week. I haven’t talked to her in probably a month now almost. Same with the grandparents, who I would normally be up visiting. But I know they’ve got their iPads, so we’ll have to figure out how to FaceTime with them. When I went in to work today, I said to my coworkers, six feet away, I said, ‘It’s been 23 days since I’ve seen you. This is weird.’ I’ve definitely been getting a little stir crazy being at home. You don’t realize how social you are—I don’t think I’m a very social person, but obviously I am.”

What helps her cope?

Apart from Animal Crossing: “We’ve been taking Cypress [her dog] out for hikes almost every day. We try to get some sort of physical exercise, even on the rainy days. People for the most part have been respectful and keeping six feet away. Trying to chat with friends online and keep up with people. I downloaded Discord so I could talk to my best friend, and we play Sims together and stuff just so we can have some sort of dialogue. I’ve been getting her groceries for her too—she can’t leave her house, she’s immunocompromised, so I get to see her from the end of her driveway every couple of weeks. I find that the days that we actually get up and do something feel a little better; I’ll bake, I’ve made muffins, I’ve made cookies. Do one little thing that makes you feel productive. The main thing is trying not to stress-eat.”

How has VIU been handling the situation?

“I think they’ve been pretty good—they jumped on the bandwagon pretty quick from what I remember. A lot of people were mad that they waited until the Friday to close down when schools in Alberta and such had closed earlier in the week, but I don’t think it was as bad in BC then. And then they shut it down pretty quick. We got updates every day for the first week or so, and then I got an email today saying the library has laptops to lend out to students who don’t have them. But I’m not sure how it works for students in residence, or international students—I’m not quite sure how that’s gone about.”

Rya Harach

First-year visual art student, North Island College.

On the loss of face-to-face classes:

“With art, it’s hard to share between classmates because you’re not there. I’m taking three classes, and currently I’m able to complete two of them with the online system. But one of my classes is studio-based, which means students can’t complete the course without access to the studio. So that’s still up in the air. But so far with the classes I can complete, it’s been good. I’m actually going to be finishing up ahead of time than if things were running as usual.”

How she’s been affected by the pandemic:

“The struggle is real. We have to be very conscious about prioritizing our mental health when we’re in a situation like this, because I’ve been hunkering down trying to get all my schoolwork finished, and there were stretches of like a week-and-a-half where I just didn’t go outside, and that really does affect our mental space.”

What helps her cope?

“Definitely video calls with friends and family. Also just keeping myself busy with hobbies inside, and not just vegging out all day because that just makes me feel gross if I don’t do anything with my day. I’ve also been doing a workout plan every day where I workout for 45 minutes to an hour, which makes me feel a lot better. Cooking, and making sure I have healthy meals. I work for a local business in Qualicum, and we’re usually at the farmer’s market every Saturday, but my boss made the decision to hold off going to the market for now. He decided he wanted to move his business online, so he’s put me in charge of that. I’ve been doing social media and website building; I’m really fortunate to have my work adapt to that situation and to still have that in my life right now.”

How has NIC been handling the situation?

“They usually send out an email once a week or so with updates on what’s happening—most of them are focused on what’s happening academically, but there have been some sent out with resources, such as from the Students’ Union. But the communication has mostly been academic. Because the courses have been compressed and we’re still expected to complete the same amount of work, professors have been super understanding and flexible. I’m really, really lucky to have such understanding professors.”

Cyrus Sobredo

First-year in dental hygiene program, Camosun College.

On the loss of face-to-face classes:

“It’s been a little hard, just because with dental hygiene we have clients over the course of the semester, and we work on them as we go, so it’s not like nursing where you do everything for courses and then have a practicum. So, we had to cancel our clients who come in for the appointments because, especially with dental services, we’re high risk for COVID-19 transmission since it’s all in the mouth and it’s all aerosols that we produce. It’s been difficult for the practical aspect of it, but since we’re a smaller faculty, it’s been nice because they try to cater to us as much as possible. It’s been a gradual transition—it was difficult, but now it’s better. I do feel accommodated for.”

How he’s been affected by the pandemic:

“I’m worried financially, just as a student, but also I’m just concerned about finding a job, and it stops my plans that I wanted to do in the summer in terms of visiting family at home. Things like that.” (His family lives in Prince Rupert.)

He’s also been avoiding transit where possible. “Instead of going on the buses, which I know are free right now, we just avoid it because it’s a lot of touching of the poles and sitting down—you just don’t know. So I’ve been involved with a company called Modo, which is like a car-sharing rental service. I’ve been using that to go to the grocery store, and it’s been really nice to have that option. You need to be a member to use the services. In terms of infection control, you have to wipe down everything—but it’s great to find a different alternative that isn’t a completely public thing.”

What helps him cope?

“A lot of walking has helped me cope with the stress of online classes and the whole pandemic thing. I’m doing a lot more hobbies such as reading, or I’ll listen to audiobooks, or I’ll even edit some photos because I do photography. But just keeping my mind distracted with the hobbies I like to do helps reduce all those anxiety-ridden thoughts.” Watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with his roommates is also a favourite activity.

How has Camosun been handling the situation?

“It was the end of the month [in March] that we were asked to not come back to school. [In our program] it was kind of discombobulated, if I’m being honest. The faculty, I think their main goal is just to make sure that we’re competent for senior year, because it’s such a big transition and there’s a lot more we have to do in senior year. So, having the loss of clinic was really upsetting for all of us, including the seniors, because they’re graduating. So they kind of tried to see what they could do, but it ended up not working out. The seniors went to the Pacific Dental Conference, where someone got the virus, so they had to self-isolate after we were told to stay at home. They tried to get us to come back to clinic after the 14 days, but it just didn’t work out. All of us said, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ It was not as organized as it could have been, but now it’s better.”

Leah Kelly

Creative writing student on exchange at VIU from the University of Hertfordshire in England.

On the loss of face-to-face classes:

“It’s been a big change, definitely. Normally at Hertfordshire we don’t have online classes at all, it’s all face-to-face learning, so having to complete the year with online classes was certainly a change. It’s not so much a struggle in the sense that I normally learn best independently and don’t find one-on-one sessions very helpful, but face-to-face classes gives you the sense that you are actually learning something. Whereas online its very much a ‘I’ll do it when I have nothing else to do’ vibe instead, which isn’t a good mindset to have for a degree.”

On being an international student during the pandemic:

“It cut me off from saying goodbye to my friends, that’s the bit that has affected me the most. Obviously, from a financial standpoint, having to pay however much for an immediate flight home was a pain in the arse. The initial plan was always to come home Easter weekend, but I ended up coming home on the 9th March. Suddenly I had 48 hours to pack up everything and get on a plane. It was a very surreal experience and there are some of my friends who I never got the chance to physically see before I picked up sticks and left back for England.”

What helps her cope?

“I FaceTime my friends and family that I can’t see. I phone my nan every other day to see how she’s doing, as she’s on her own during this lockdown. Communication I think is vital in times like these, especially with the more vulnerable people. I’m lucky in the sense that I live with my mum and brother, so loneliness isn’t a thing I have to worry about. But I make sure I always talk to my friends who I know have more complicated home lives or are on their own during this time so they have an outlet of some description.

“I’ll be the first to say, Britain has done a poor job at handling this pandemic, but what helps me cope with the days when I’m feeling a bit more negative about everything is the way we can pull together as a country. For example, yesterday, our lockdown got extended for another three weeks, and after already being on lockdown for three weeks, it brought morales down quite a bit. However, yesterday, the ex-war veteran Captain Tom Moore raised £15 million for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his garden for his 100th birthday in two weeks. Things like that really lift everyone up, and realize that good things are still happening, and will continue to happen after this is all over. I get quite a bit of anxiety over the fact that my mum works for the NHS, but every Thursday at eight p.m., there is a #ClapfortheNHS where the nation stands on their doorsteps and celebrates the frontline staff for keeping the country standing during these unprecedented times, and it fills me with happiness to see it.”

How her home university has been dealing with the situation:

“I left rather abruptly from VIU, so I haven’t seen all the efforts they have gone to for handling this pandemic, however I still receive the update emails which is nice to see. Hertfordshire University is a different story. I have received update emails about how Britain is handling the pandemic but nothing really about what students are meant to do, specifically final year students. It’s more of a ‘Here you go, it’s all over, happy summer, wash your hands’ kind of deal, which isn’t even a little helpful. I have received one email from them regarding what to do about paperwork and things, and that is all the contact I’ve had with them. It’s a shame, I feel like my year has ended very abruptly, and I don’t know if I’ve done all the right things or if I’ve missed anything integral, and with my own home university not being much help in contacting me, it feels all very forlorn.”

Top Photo: Patrick Wilson

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