It’s no secret that 2020 is shaping up to be a bit of a shit show for everyone thanks to our special friend ‘Rona. But in amongst the panic and chaos that has swept our university community, I feel there is one demographic which has been hit particularly hard by this event. The freshers. Yes, you heard that right. The freshers.
Picture this: You’ve just moved to a new city to begin a whole new level of education. After probably forking out thousands of dollars to go to a hall, you’ve spent the past few weeks making new friends, starting your degree and doing all the crazy shit you do once you’re away from your parents’ gaze. This alcohol drenched, freezing cold, cesspool of a town is officially your home for the next however many years, with your first year often paving the way for the years to come through the people you meet and the experiences you have.
Then just as you begin to get into the swing of things, coronavirus hits harder than the eggs thrown at you before toga. The city of Dunedin and the University shut down, forcing many people to go home, having to leave all their new friends and miss out on experiences while still paying for their residential college.
Despite the uncertain news headlines, constant emails and the precautionary changes taking place amongst residential colleges, it was only a matter of time until the lockdown was announced. And with that announcement, the fresh faced, enthusiastic first years who had only just scraped the surface of their Otago journey got ground to a halt. As John from UniCol recalls it, his immediate thought was “what the fuck is happening with my course,” and describes that it felt as though “the best year of my life had been put on hold”.
But he wasn’t the only one with this thought.
“From the first day I moved into my hall, I’ve had a great time at uni. I had no idea that a pandemic would strike our country and university the year I would start,” explains Thiliner, a first year health science student at St Margarets. “I never thought of the idea of having to go back home, even before my student experience had really started.” Thiliner also describes the thought of being in lockdown daunting, but still remains hopeful and optimistic about the outcomes which lie ahead, the kind of optimism you would really only find in a hopeful first year. He says the “support of the hall and uni have made this process much easier. I think that this lockdown can save so many lives,” he continues to say “this time will pass, but we’ve got to work together”.
Although most first years stay in halls which provide extra support and tutorials during times like these, things can be a little different for those not living in colleges. Tamika, a Local first year, also describes that the COVID-19 lockdown has had a major impact on her first year, not necessarily the social side, but more the academic side. “I’m not too worried about missing out on parties for the time being, I’m just scared that I’m falling too behind in uni,” she expresses. Although the Locals programme has worked hard to provide extra support and move their weekley activities online, it’s still a stressful time with no clear end in sight. “This lockdown is making me exhausted, all of the constant background anxiety. When will this end? How bad is it going to get? I feel like I’m constantly on the edge of danger.”
It’s no secret the lockdown has presented challenges when it comes to studying, but for those taking competitive entry or practical first year courses, it seems to be causing more feelings of stress and missed opportunities. “The health sci papers have labs that are often difficult to deliver online, but they have done a good job given the circumstances,” continues Thiliner, “lots of the assessment and delivery has been significantly changed and our final exams are worth much more, which adds pressure during first year”.
Hannah, who is currently completing her first year of Teachers College explains it’s annoying and disappointing, but not necessarily the end of the world. “Our placements were meant to be the week following the lockdown. It hasn’t been confirmed if it’s happening but I think it’s clear it won’t. It’s annoying because we’ve been working hard and looking forward to it.” But she continues to say there’s other options, such as adding weeks on at the end of the year, or throughout the duration of the degree but it’s a shame we have to wait to get into the classroom.”
Although there is plenty of stress and uncertainty surrounding the first year courses, some aren’t too concerned. Another first year, Harry, expresses that the University staff might be more relaxed with grading exams, so overall, it could be an easier year to be enrolled in. But when it comes to semester two, there’s still uncertainty as to what type of first year these students are going to experience.
But there seems to be one underlying message that seems to keep coming up, first year or not. “We, as Otago students, can pull ourselves together during a crisis, we’ve gotten this far together, let’s not give up,” says Thiliner. “We’ll get through this together.” And you know what, he’s right. Times are tough, futures uncertain, and many are feeling anxious to get back to life the way it once was. The more we stay home, the sooner we are back. And the sooner we can start teasing freshers on the piss again, sorry kids x