Student Days

Students Days; I still remember them well and mine were 50 years ago!

This year has been a very unsettling time for students and young people in general.

Going off to college is for many, the first time they have been away from home for any length of time, after usually, spending eighteen years being looked after and possibly, mollycoddled for much of their lives

Throw into that mix, the vagaries of the COVID 19 situation, lockdowns occurring in many colleges and universities, and they have more extreme circumstances to cope with than any student population before them, since the 2ndWorld War.

Leaving home

Leaving home is part of a rite of passage.  The time to find your style, build your character, and learn to cope with responsibilities.

I loved being at Music college. Being an only child, I revelled in my freedom, and the opportunities to make new friends from many varied backgrounds.  

I didn’t live in a hall of residence, because at that time, my Music college didn’t have one.  Probably due to the extreme noise that would have occurred if everyone practised their instruments in their rooms at the same time! I shared a bedsit with another girl, in a house full of bedsits for female students.

I didn’t have to tell anyone where I was going, who I was with or what time I’d be home. I wasn’t at all homesick. I embraced the whole experience.  Although, I was disappointed to find that my Music college didn’t have a Freshers Ball – which was the norm for most colleges and universities at the time. I’d even had a dress made especially for it!

This year, many students haven’t been able to attend the university of their choice, or even if they have been accepted, most will still have to follow their courses online.  

For those who have managed to go to university, in many cases, they have now found themselves in lockdown due to the rapid spread of the virus amongst the student population. 

At a time when they should be finding their own feet, enjoying the freedom away from parental control, they now have curfews due to an invisible virus!

How are students feeling?

What should be the most exciting time of their lives, has sadly turned out to be a disappointment in many ways.

I asked two of my young friends, who are attending university about the best and worst things in their life at the moment.

One who is just about to start her third year, on a law degree in Birmingham said,  

‘The worst of Student life with the virus is the feeling of regret and missing out. There’s already so much pressure to enjoy one’s youth, as it only gets harder from here on out. I’ve just turned 20 but I’ve already, since 16, been juggling various jobs, full time education and with never enough money or time to do fun things like holidays or even university societies. In my final year, when the demands of uni are toughest, the pandemic has changed everything and made it online, which takes time getting used to. I finally have a bit more money- but none of the societies are open or running as normal. The clubs, bars and pubs are shut and I refuse to attend illegal and dangerous house parties. Its isolating being away from one’s family and even talking about uni work to other students is different over a screen. These are meant to be the best years of my life and as I’d finally figured out my routine and finances, its all up in the air again.

“Good things if any… We’re all in the same boat. I feel like it’s nice and develops a feeling of camaraderie. However, there is resentment because some of the freshers envy the experience we had joining uni before the pandemic. Also, some of us who are following the rules resent those who are breaking them. I feel although courses are online and most people have more free time to study which is a positive, but because I also work, things are mainly the same for me. It has given me time to explore my own hobbies such as meditation and hula hooping. I also think being so isolated and completely self-motivated it is preparing us for the working world as it’s good for accountability.”

I was happy to hear that this particular friend is coping so well, because she does have some health issues and could easily have been severely affected by the isolation.

My other young friend, has just started university, studying literature and drama.

“Everything’s okay over here! I kind of just stay to my flat because nearly all of the learning is online, but my flat mates are lush and I’ve met some people from my course. The best thing is how close I am to granny (and I’ve already visited her – socially distanced of course) and our movie nights. The worst is the online because it’s just not the same as meeting people in person.” 

This young friend is very confident and has a strong personality, so I am sure she will cope well, but I’m so glad to hear she has already made friends.

The impact for the future.

Back in 1970 there were a few problems, but fortunately, not so serious that they impacted on our studies or generally, our mental health.  We were in the midst of the Winter of Discontent, which meant we suffered power cuts daily.  We often returned home from college to a complete blackout, with no way to cook, or keep warm.  During that time, however, we did manage to make lots of new friends.

A few days into the term, we found out that our neighbouring building, was a male hall of residence. Unlike us, they had gas fires in their rooms, so we ate a lot of toast with jam, salad cream, tomato ketchup, or whatever our new friends had available.

This year, one of the biggest impacts that the lockdown has made on many people, not just students, is on their mental health. And we don’t yet know to what extent this has impacted in the long term.

I am very lucky. I rarely feel ‘down’, and have never felt depressed. However, during these months, on some days I’ve felt in a bit of a malaise, but not so much that I couldn’t pull myself out of it.  

I miss seeing my friends more than anything and although mobiles, and zoom calls are great, they’re not the same.

We’ve all heard the older generation talk about how people pulled together during the conflict of the second world war.  To a certain extent, when the pandemic started, we did pull together.

People were talking to neighbours to check that the elderly weren’t alone, or they shopped for people who were self-isolating.  

Now though, i think people are getting pandemic- worn.  They are getting fed-up with all of the ever-changing rules, that often don’t seem that effective.

My view is that we are not as self-less as we were during previous decades.  The way we live has changed. People move away to work, leaving school friends and family, often building new lives completely, in the area they have moved to.

Due to the number of hours we work, we don’t see neighbours as often as people did. We often don’t even know our next-door neighbours beyond saying ‘hello’.  They go to work, come home and disappear inside their front doors.

For me, one of the best things about college, as a ‘people’ person, was meeting so many new people and making friends outside of my small ‘home-town bubble’.

I’m hoping that during the student lockdowns, they will make friends.  They will come together, because they are all ‘in the same boat’, as my young friend said.

College friends can be friends for life – even when you go your different ways at the end of your study years.

As I said at the beginning, I started college 50 years ago this September.  Amongst others, I made friends in that first week and with two particular people; Norman and Denis. Norman was one of the male students living next door to me, and Denis was at Music College with me.

My long-lasting friends and I were going to get together along with respective wives and husbands, to celebrate our 50-year friendship, along with some other friends too. However as this would put us over our six people gathering, it isn’t going to happen. 

The future:

The young students and people of today do have far more to contend with than my generation ever did. All of us in the UK, since the war have led a pretty easy life compared to those who lived through the war.

Not only have this young generation had to start their university life during the pandemic, but when they emerge from their studies, the impact of the pandemic is going to make the job-market a very different one. 

On leaving university in the early 70’s, students were almost all ensured they would get a job.

However, I’m confident that despite the trials these young people are going through, they will, with resilience and creativity, get through their courses and find ways to make a living.  

They have other life-tools that our generation didn’t have, in terms of online outlets, opportunities and their willingness to adopt these different options.  I believe and hope, many of them will flourish despite COVID 19!

“Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

Chinese proverb.