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‘This is a strange year for first years’

October 22nd, 2020 11:45 AM

By Southern Star Team

Alicia O’Sullivan is not sure she will ever get used to the ‘new normal’ of online lectures and limited social opportunities. (Photo: Fabian Boros)

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UCC Quercus Scholar, Skibbereen law student Alicia O’Sullivan, explains how this year’s new college students have had a rough road to third level, and the year ahead will prove a challenge

WHEN I saw the CAO text pop up in my phone on September 11th, I felt that finally a day of relief had come. The previous five months for us, outgoing Leaving Certificate students, had been an ordeal. I felt that we could start to look forward to a new chapter and a fresh beginning. All the uncertainty, stress, and chaos of the Leaving Cert seemed now to be behind us all.

In the week leading up to September 28th, emails had started to come in about online and in-person lectures. My college year was divided into groups that would attend some lectures in person, and others online. It was all very well planned out to adhere to social distancing and make sure we all got a chance to be on campus. And then, everything changed again. Suddenly our dreams of having some sense of normal college experience went out the window. I was living in student accommodation and was going to be stuck inside for at least two weeks for all classes.

It has not been easy, and to be frank, I’m not sure I will ever get used to it. Maybe it’s assumed that our generation loves staring at screens all day! Perhaps there is some truth in that, but this is completely different. Being stuck in your room all day because you have one lecture in the morning and one a few hours later can be lonely, to say the least.

This is a strange year for first years. The opportunity to meet people is very difficult. Group chats for courses have been set up to allow us to communicate casually. We may be able to meet in small groups, adhering to guidelines of course, when it becomes possible again. We had our first virtual ‘Meet and Greet’ last week. It was a huge relief to finally see faces, rather than just names on a screen, and to hear actual voices rather than staring at a screen of messages.

Young people have had an extremely tough time and there is a lot expected of us, particularly when we are in such a vulnerable and changing time of our life. I have already missed my last few weeks in school, my graduation, my debs, our freshers’ week and plenty more. These would have been normal things to experience and enjoy during the exciting transition from secondary to college.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. It was, and is, all for a very good reason. But it’s not healthy to pretend that I am not upset to have missed all these life stages. All of us, young and old, have had missed opportunities. Some personal, some economical and some just social. We have to allow ourselves to not feel guilty for feeling upset or frustrated that we’ve missed out.

Currently there is no vaccine or ‘quick fix’ for Covid-19. Life isn’t going to return to normal anytime soon and this is a hard a pill to swallow. But maybe we could all just have a bit more compassion and selflessness until then.

When we look at what’s happening with the current increase in cases across the country, maybe selflessness and compassion will be what inevitably gets us through this pandemic.

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