COVID-19 Pandemic: My University Freshman’s Nightmare

It’s important to know that virtual classes are not the same as physical ones as the interaction cannot be effectively passed on to students. Similarly, one cannot say they have fully experienced university life without getting lost on their first day. I say it’s a nightmare because a university freshman cannot relive the first year again. Having imagined for some umpteen years how their first year of university would be, every thought now goes down the drain. Gone forever. However, we can be one of the firsts to say that we started university during a pandemic.

A university freshman's nightmare of a completely empty lecture hall.
An empty lecture hall in a university as a result of the temporary shutdown. Students are not allowed inside the university premises. They are not equipped to handle the social distancing regulations for COVID-19.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

A University Freshman’s Experience In 2020

At the start of 2020, I was feeling rejuvenated. Like pouring ice-cold milk into a tall glass, signifying a new beginning. However, our dreams were quickly dashed as our hopes and aspirations began to unwind. Excitement turns to fear with the news of the novel COVID-19 pandemic being announced in early March. The year had brought one bad news after another. Devastating everyone who had lived through most of 2020.

A hashtag of stay at home written out from wooden blocks and a wooden house next to it. This has caused many first year university students to miss out on many experiences.
The stay at home movement was trending on every social media platform. Urging people all over the world to quarantine themselves in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Quarantine on a worldwide scale has caused many businesses to either reduce operations or shutdown. The increase in layoffs, salary reductions, and new work restrictions became a common issue. These ‘new norms’ made going through the year the way we imagined difficult. This unprecedented event caught practically everyone by surprise, and derailed many of their plans for 2020. Not many can say that they went through this year the way they had imagined.

1) How My University Freshman Year Disappeared With An Email

For me, my university, Monash University Malaysia, had become one of the biggest trials I have had to face. As viruses do not discriminate, the education sector too took a hit from the pandemic. The year began with me preparing to start my new university freshman life. Eager to join every club available and buying brand new stationery. Imagining the first impression I would make on the first day of school. Making friends that would go crazy once we got to know each other. Imagining the unfamiliar building walls of the school. And how it would eventually be a place where I can give future underclassman directions to their classroom. The thought had only remained a thought.

A hand taping on a smartphone and wearing grey suit.
Receiving an email from my school that classes were cancelled. Changing the course of my freshman university life.
Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

In reality, I was facing the rejection of room and physical classes cancellation. As well as campuses closing down and the non-existent involvement in school curricula. I had booked my room, moved in the day before orientation. Prepared for what I would wear for the next day, and was moderately nervous. Suddenly, I received an email notification from the Student Affairs Manager: my orientation’s postponed and my first semester’s transitioned to online classes.

On the other hand, I felt relieved as I was anxious about meeting new people. I was also happy to return home. No way could I have predicted that it would end up being my only real university experience. It was the closest I could get to becoming a real university freshman. It’s like the feeling of buying an ice-cream in a cone, only to have the ice-cream falling off to the ground before I can even lick it to taste it.

2) Struggles Of A Dorm Residence’s Newcomer

I returned home the day after in hopes that I would come back to the university a week later. So I left all my clothes and belongings in my dorm room. But as classes progressed online, studying from home was all I needed. There were still many remaining students staying in their dorm rooms. Eventually, they also returned home to their families. Continuing their studies from home.

An empty hallway of a school residences with an exit sign at the end.
Residences also suffered as many students cancelled their rooms to study from home.
Image by Zandria Ross from Pixabay

I found that all I needed was a computer to successfully complete my school work. I didn’t see the need to go back to my dorm where I would be alone and eating fast food every day. Three months went by. The time to renew my contract was approaching. As I thought the situation would taper down over time, I predicted that the schools would reopen. If I cancelled my room, I would have to go through the booking process all over again. I held up for six months in total. Realising that the situation was not getting any better.

The dorm fees made me feel guilty toward my parents who were paying for me. I didn’t get a proper chance to enjoy it. Constantly thinking that their money had gone to waste. Many students have complained about the rent fees being too high. Many families affected by the pandemic are struggling financially. Fortunately, many universities found a solution to lessen their burden by providing discounts on their rental fees. For my dorm, Sunway Monash Residence, provided residences with up to 70% rebate. And students who meet the criteria were allowed to claim it, myself included.

Transition To Online Learning For A University Freshman

Fear of cross-infection resulted in mandatory quarantine and physical distancing as prevention. Therefore, classes turned to online solutions and school residents would even return home. Different students have their own take on how they truly feel about online education.

A man with a mask on posing in front of an empty classroom.
Students now had to figure out a way to be productive as they were in their classrooms at home. It’s much easier said than done.
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

Beginner’s Difficulty Adapting To Learning In a Virtual Space

At first, I was not disappointed after hearing the news. Online classes allow me to avoid morning classes and study in the comfort of my bed. To me, this meant that I had more time to figure out the material being taught. However, sitting long hours every day in front of a computer screen only made me feel very sleepy and lazy to study. I started dreading the hour before my Zoom video lecture goes live. In other words, I was demotivated and uninterested to study.

I came across one main conflict during my online classes. I questioned whether online learning had lowered my grade, or if it was my own disinterest. My grades were undesirable to me. And my GPA was lower than I remembered. I fought an internal battle for my own self-worth. I blamed and hated online learning for a while after that.

A cartoon animation of a male teenager watching an online lecture with his other classmates on a desk. New freshman's being the first to start school during a pandemic.
Endless video calls and online school work have caused many students to feel unmotivated. But it is the only interaction with their classmates and teachers.
Image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay

When learning is carried out in a physical classroom, processing the material would be more effective. Knowing when to schedule my time to study will be much easier. By giving me too much idle time, I tend to do less work and play too often. And it has just become worse throughout the year.

What Can A University Freshman Take From This Experience?

The difference between the imagined life versus the reality for students in 2020 is too big. The uncertainty of how the situation will turn out scares me. I might have to spend my whole university life completely online and isolated. This virus has completely robbed me of a once-in-lifetime experience in becoming a real university freshman.

The school does not only teach knowledge, it also teaches life lessons. Which gives meaning to our lives and a road to a future career. During my online classes, what has really helped me connect with my online peers and teachers was the Discord app. It is popular amongst gamers. But it disguises itself as a virtual classroom. Students can discuss their opinions and meet new people. Find groupmates, and hang out by listening to their favourite music. We found a way to interact with our classmates online when the situation didn’t allow it. Discord helped me experience as close as possible what a 2020 university freshman can get out of a real university classroom.

A discord app screenshot of tabs consisting of information for school work. This is the new communication tool for university freshman.
A screenshot of a page on the Discord app: showcasing how it has helped information spread to students from teachers.
Image credit to the Author

I’ve finished now 2020 is coming to an end. I’m glad to say I finished my first year through the COVID-19 global pandemic. I found new meaningful moments that only 2020 could have given. The Discord app has helped with some of these moments. It has become my main source of communication between my fellow classmates and professors. Go check out the Discord app, the virtual classroom. To uncover the features that helped me get through my freshman year. It’s been fun meeting you 2020, goodbye.

How many of you lived 2020 the way you imagined in the beginning of the year?

Dina GHAZALI

About Dina GHAZALI

Raised abroad almost her entire life, Dina is well exposed to the multi-cultural world around her. Penned her innermost thoughts on paper as a child, and eventually fell in love with writing. Aims to be a successful writer one day.

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