For those of us who have spent most of our lives embedded in the academic world, the end of summer means one thing: a return to school. Much like the falling of leaves and the gradual decrease in temperature, the beginning of a semester brings with it some familiarity – the return of a routine once known so well. This upcoming semester, however, seems to have crept up on us- imposing itself into a life that has been shaken up by the political and socio-economic catastrophes we’ve been facing. Moreover, Fall 2020-2021 is predominantly online, imbuing us with unfamiliar sentiments and heightened uncertainties, particularly felt by those whose first taste of university life is delivered through an electronic screen. That being said, the uncertainty need not overpower the excitement, for there are ways to take this experience and mold it into a pleasurable one.
The three intersecting pillars of university life are of personal, academic, and social nature. Therefore, the attempt to optimize this virtual experience starts with a personal endeavour to assess who we are, how we are doing, and what we want out of this upcoming semester. These questions might carry heavy answers, and shed light on aspects of our life that we want to pay increased attention to in the next couple of months or they may pave the way for opportunities for personal growth. Whatever the answers, it’s important to have a strong sense of self before planning out the logistics of day to day life.
The academic aspect of online learning might be quite overwhelming because the physical borders that used to exist between campus and home have essentially dissolved. Our homes are now both our classrooms and our havens, so it’s extremely helpful to create boundaries between the two. This can be done by designating a specific area to attend our classes and study, allowing the rest of our living space to be an escape from the academic world. It’s also extremely beneficial to estimate how much time we want to devote to our courses and create a realistic schedule that allocates enough time for academic work while still giving us the temporal liberty to pursue the hobbies we love and engage in the aforementioned personal growth. Creating the time to engage in the activities that bring us joy is integral in maintaining our mental well being. The effectiveness of these tips, however, is reliant on trial and error. We might try dozens of schedules before we find one that works for us, so it’s okay if we rearrange the way we’re living our day to day lives if it means we inch towards a lifestyle that’s more suited to our individual preferences. Adaptability is a pragmatic concept, and in trying to optimize the way we lead our lives, we might find ourselves struggling to uphold a standard we created for ourselves, and that’s okay. We’re living through unprecedented global and local circumstances, and so we should find it within us to understand and forgive ourselves if our efforts don’t translate into the same results we used to see in a world that’s completely different from the one we’re living in today.
As far as the social dimension of an online university is concerned, it’s important to remind ourselves that physical distancing need not be social distancing. So for those of us with already established friendships, video calls are a powerful tool in maintaining a healthy social life. And for those entering university, looking to meet new people and create lasting friendships, don’t get discouraged. There are plenty of incoming students looking for the same things and there are great virtual avenues to do so. For one, an immutable part of the university experience are WhatsApp groups created for each major and course. Once these groups are made, it becomes easier to organize virtual study sessions with other interested people, allowing social connections to rise from academic soil. Moreover, it’s important to remember that the physical social events are not being canceled, they’re being altered into virtual form. This means that the opportunities to meet new people and be involved in social communities won’t be compromised as a result of online learning. In trying to create new friendships virtually, it can sometimes feel like we’re extending a hand into the dark, but we must remember that there are people like us that are looking for the same things so in putting ourselves out there in every way we can, we increase our chances of meeting these people.
Going into an online semester isn’t easy, and it’s important to acknowledge this difficulty and prioritize our wellbeing in spite of it. This is reliant on the knowledge of what cards we hold in our hands, and how we can use them to enhance our personal, academic, and social experience.