by Charlene Behal
There is something that all students have in common upon returning to campus this semester: the past two years of our lives have been stripped from us. The closest thing I can equate the experience to is feeling like we’ve been ‘blipped’, like in Spider-Man: Far from Home. Except we weren’t far from home, we were stuck at home. Going back to campus this semester means facing everything that we were forced to avoid for the last two years. It means facing what we’ve been told to be afraid of.
For young people like myself, that period of being in our late teens and early twenties –that is supposedly ‘the best times of our lives’ was replaced with months and months trapped in our homes with limits to what we were allowed to do. The only experience of “going to uni” that I’ve had is rolling out of bed and onto my desk chair to communicate to black screens. And after it was all over, I’d roll back into bed. I’ve done group projects with people I have never met before. I’ve seen potential friendships essentially thrown out the window and those possibilities of one-on-one conversations or going out to eat were made distant realities. I was as close with my classmates as I was with random people I’ve argued with on Twitter. Those pivotal, ‘life-changing’ years just didn’t happen for us, and now we’re being told to go out into the great, big world. From March 2020, we have ‘blipped’ to 2022.
It’s crazy to think that there are now three generations of pandemic students, and I’m a part of the first generation. My introduction to uni was two weeks of face-to-face classes which turned into two years of purely online classes. Back then, teachers used to bang on about how ‘digital learning’ paled in comparison to attending face-to-face classes but during the pandemic it was our only option, and now we rely on it.
In many ways, the move to campus this semester feels like a sigh of relief. We have finally made it to this point after it feeling so unattainable for so long. Yet the experience of coming back in person is also riddled with anxiety. Everything feels brand new again – similar to the feeling of being fresh out of High School. I’m in my third year of uni, but in many ways it feels like it’s my first.
We learned so much about ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugliest. Being stuck in the same place every day with yourself, unwillingly, isn’t exactly the most healthy thing to do… for me and many others it exacerbated mental health struggles. Coming back to campus is one of the many things that the world is being reintroduced to that feels “normal”. More than anything, I just want my life to feel normal.
For any other pandemic students that are struggling, trust me when I say, I have been there. Reaching out to Swinburne’s support services was one of the best things I ever did, and the catalyst for me to feel okay again. As daunting as it was at first, learning how to manage my mental health in the lockdowns helped me to find myself again. After reaching out, I found an even better version of myself catapulting into the world, ready to takes on life’s challenges and grasp new opportunities – even if they seem intimidating.
This semester may be a huge adjustment, but it’s also a new chapter, and it’s one that I can’t wait to see unfold.
Photo by Matese Fields.