Roar writer Amiya Johar reflects on her first year of university online.

Alarm blares. Wake up. Squint at your already open laptop with sleep-heavy eyes- it had been left on as you fell asleep to YouTube videos last night. The robotic voice of your lecturer drones through the speakers. Attend class, work, eat, scroll through social media endlessly, sleep, repeat. I have just described what arguably every online student’s day has looked like since the start of Covid-19.

Eerily enough, it seems that our lives have turned into a twisted version of Groundhog Day. But, is it all this bleak? Personally, while this past year has been far from easy, I have found some things to be grateful for. As an international student having completed my entire first year of university online, please follow me down my end-of-year reflection rabbit hole: from budding online friendships to major bouts of FOMO.

Most days of online university were not unlike what I described above, a repetitive rut of waking up, attempting to study in an unstructured home environment, then endlessly scrolling through social media littered with doomsday declarations. Not to mention the erratic schedules and alienating time zone differences. Staying up till 3 am for online classes and sleeping in till 3 pm definitely catches up to you. At the peak of the pandemic, we were trapped between screens: Microsoft Word for work and Netflix for leisure.

Lectures were YouTube videos in poor disguise and classes were underwhelming. Every breakout room was a chamber of staticky silence, videos and microphones resolutely off. Each attempt at socialization was marred by technical difficulties and the inevitable awkwardness of online conversation. Bridging cultural barriers is certainly not made easy by garbled voices and pixelated videos.

So, making friends online was much harder than I thought. Although I was grateful that my high school friends and I were still very much in regular contact, I did not, and still struggle to, feel like a university student. It felt as though I was experiencing a pale continuation of high school- living in the same city, the same home, and knowing the same people despite nearly two years of envisioning a very different life after graduating from school. I was a university student who had never actually been to her university. 

Not to mention the barrage of distressing news flooding in about an unknown virus ravaging the globe. The growing pandemic, now christened with a name, brought with it a new existential fear of the unknown and triggered panicked concern for loved ones- that’s heavy stuff for seventeen-year-olds to face, fresh out of high school. The bitter cocktail of negative news, isolation from friends, technological overload and confinement within four walls made it hard not to lose self-motivation at a time when it was a scarce resource.

While social media loosely connected classmates, it was also a stark reminder of all I was missing out on. With Instagram stories of students in nightclubs or visiting museums blaring from my phone, it was hard not to develop a major case of FOMO. Social media made me privy to the lives of those who were able to attend on-campus classes, socialize, participate in society meetings and explore London— everything I had dreamed of. So, I lived vicariously through them while also stewing in bitter regret.  

This was, however, until I realized that despite everything, I was grateful for much that came with online learning. For one, I was lucky enough to spend an additional year living with my family and spending quality time with them. While being together at home 24/7 was sometimes a challenge, my relationship with them evolved wonderfully. We bonded over Scrabble and the occasional glass of wine.

My high school friendships were also given more time to deepen before we all set off to university in different corners of the world- a new tradition of virtual movie nights and online games was born. And surprisingly, the world’s adaptation to the online space led to the opening of far more accessible career opportunities. So, my motivation eventually skyrocketed as I involved myself in virtual internships, freelancing and everything else I could possibly imagine filling my time with.

Online learning also allowed me to enjoy downtime and explore new hobbies. From crocheting sweaters and learning the splits to testing the waters of online dating, I tried it all and I had fun doing it! Living in a difficult global climate with considerable time on my hands as an online student also forced me to spotlight my mental health. I was able to try my hand at meditating, journaling and mindfulness, something I could never imagine having the patience to do pre-pandemic.

I Marie Kondo’d my life in every sense of the word; adapting to online learning and an uncertain world really put into perspective the things that bring me joy and the things that don’t.

While it’s liberating to recognize the positive aspects that have come out of my online learning experience, I am lucky enough to be speaking from a place of privilege. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted countless people, including many students of King’s College London. With the array of financial and personal struggles that came with the pandemic, others’ experiences of online learning arguably differ from mine. 

However, now that the world is carefully reopening, I’m excited to experience on-campus university life. But, online learning may have caused a permanent revolution in in-person education and rightly so. From recorded lectures available for future reference to hassle-free online office hours, some digital adaptations have proven rather practical. I’m cautiously looking forward to experiencing what student life will look like now. Until then, I hope that next summer I’ll be writing my end-of-year reflections as a student studying on-campus in a post-pandemic world. 

BA Culture, Media and Creative Industries student. Writer for Roar News' Culture and Comment. Poet. Artist. Puppy person.

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