STUDENT BLOG: Mourning the lost normals of university

Georgia Brennan-Scott is a final year Digital Media student at The University of Leeds with no desire to specialise just yet. Before becoming the Student Design Manager at YGAM, she worked on various digital and communication projects at Oxera Economic Consulting, always finding a way to make design a part of her job (and she especially loves to talk typefaces). Outside of work Georgia loves hosting her friends for delicious vegan meals, movie nights and homemade baked goods. She enjoys reading novels and is slowly learning Spanish from scratch.

For me, the student experience is marked by independence. The thrill of being able to invite friends over to your house, to make stupid decisions that will make good stories even if you’ll regret them. It’s an experience which is heavily romanticised. No one really lives the heralded student life that we imagine, but for me, “normal” became inviting friends over to eat baked goods and drink tea, or going out with friends till the AM only to wake up at 5.30 the next morning for rowing training. Now, in the pandemic almost everything feels like a risk. I barely remember how I made judgements of risk and regret before – it is hard to imagine that life, so familiar and normal, where my choices weren’t dictated by COVID.

The reality of being a student is that no normal lasts very long. In first year, you get used to your student accommodation: the rhythms and routines of your randomly assigned flatmates, the beauty/horror of being surrounded by hundreds of other first years in flats above and below you. Even if you choose to live with the same people again, second year is starkly different. You’re probably living in a house, maybe counting bills and no longer enjoying endlessly long power showers. This cycle of new normal each year is the way of university student life, whether you realise it or not, this is what you accept. I feel nostalgia for the old, lost normals. From first year I miss the bathroom mirror from my en-suite, my favourite lecturer and my flatmate who was on exchange and went back to France. In first year, there was time to say goodbye. At the end of first year I spent a final week in Leeds (where I study) going out four nights in a row with a random collection of good friends. I felt melancholic as I took down pictures from my pinboard, remembering all the things that had happened in my room that year.

In March 2020, there was a week where the pandemic descended and changed everything very quickly. At the beginning of the week I was sitting in the library with my friends, half writing an essay, half planning our costumes for a massive pub crawl at the weekend. By the end of the week, all my friends had gone home, and I was packed up too. The life I was living in the first half of March is not one I will ever return to: the house I was living in, the people I was living with, the way I was spending my days with friends. In the middle of March, I watched my university life crumble literally before my eyes. I remember the night when I realised second year was over. My housemate told me he had just booked a flight home and he had four hours to pack. Sitting on his bed, watching him pack up his room, I realised we did not know when he would be back, or when I would be. At that point I was planning to study abroad in Cape Town starting in July, while he would be finishing his degree in Leeds. It felt like everything familiar was being derailed without any warning.

My life’s trajectory was interrupted mid-takeoff, and it is not possible for me to take up that path again. For some students, life has pretty much resumed course, and perhaps the difference between the life they had planned and the life COVID has thrown them into is not too stark. For me, COVID altered the course I was on. Instead of being in Cape Town, I am finishing my degree in Leeds this year. At some point I won’t be able to make the comparison between the life I had planned out and this one, because the track will run out. For now, I feel the strange parallel of the version of me who kept going, who is in Cape Town now living out her best life. In the meantime, I will keep being nostalgic for all the lost normals, while trying to get used to this one.

I’m struggling to stay sane in lockdown as much as anyone else, but doing yoga first thing in the morning, and going for walks in green forests with friends help a lot. Ultimately, lockdown is a great time for pruning – get rid of the things in your life which don’t serve you and focus on whatever makes you feel good. I think surviving adulthood is a slow process of figuring out the things that make your life easier and the things you feel better without, then it’s a game of trying to avoid the tough stuff, or grin and bear it with your medicine of choice. No one is finding this easy, I promise you.

YGAM has started its first student information campaign since the launch of its dedicated ‘Student Hub’ online education portal earlier this year. ‘Keep Calm in COVID’ (www.students.ygam.org/keepcalmincovid/) provides students with a range of tools, guidance, and useful documents for navigating  student life through these unprecedented times of uncertainty. The holistic digital resource is relevant to all students, covering a range of topics from mental health, gaming and gambling and where to find support. It also features an interactive quiz that allows them to test their understanding of the current situation and compare with their peers.

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