University life after Covid: ‘I go to the library and see people I haven’t seen since 2020’

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A walk-in Covid vaccine bus is parked in the square – a stark reminder that this year’s cohort of students is still living through a pandemic.

However, while the line of masked students waiting for their jag snakes around the corner, the line for a nearby catering van is even longer as in-person friendships rekindle after 18 months of online learning.

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“It’s exhausting, everyone has to deal with seeing so many people again, going into the library and talking to everyone you know,” says Pip Howes, 21, a fourth-year geography and science student. social anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. “It only knocks you out.”

Students George Williams, Hugo Rogers, Ben Boissier and Josh Landau are enjoying their return to college.

Her friend Dulcie Loveland, who studies art history, agrees.

“After talking to so many people during the day, I often put my mask on and block people out when I get home,” she says. “I do most of my lectures online – I only have two hours a week in person this year, it’s not much, but that’s fine with me. When I go to university now, it’s It’s more of a social occasion for me.

Unlike most students, Ms Loveland says she actually prefers to learn online from her bedroom.

Large lectures of more than 50 people are online at most Scottish universities, in line with government guidelines. For many students, small group classes such as seminars and tutorials are in-person, but may depend on the university, subject, or even professor teaching it. Students are required to wear masks during class, as well as while studying at the library.

Students are returning to the University of Edinburgh after a year of distance learning.

“I know that’s not a popular point of view among most students, but it’s better for me,” she says. “I can rewind parts and I find that I’m more productive.”

Ms Howes finds Covid regulations also interfere with in-person teaching.

“When you have an in-person tutorial, you have to wear a mask and it’s very difficult to talk to people and connect with them,” she says. “Online was just as bad, nobody wants to talk and people just turn off their cameras.

Third-year students Josh Landau, Ben Boissier, Hugo Rogers and George Williams are happy to return to a life that is more like the freshman year of the student experience they remember.

Edinburgh’s Bristo Square is always quiet.

“Last year was dark enough to be a student,” says Mr. Boissier, a philosophy and theology student. a novelty.

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None of the students are afraid of catching the Covid. Some of them had it earlier this year and most have since been vaccinated.

“Bars and clubs feel the same again now, everyone is crowding – except for when you don’t have to wear a mask on the dance floor, but you have to put it on to go to the bar, it’s strange”, adds Mr. Boissier. .

Mr Williams, who has only had his first dose of the vaccine and is not due to receive his second for a few weeks, will no longer be allowed into nightclubs since the introduction of vaccine passports, but says he didn’t think of it.

Ms Howes, who is double vaccinated but cannot upload her vaccination passport as she had a jag in England and one in Scotland, does not believe clubs will be able to implement the policy in practice.

“The club we went to last week, there was a line around the block anyway, it was a mess,” she says. “Everyone is pushing and shoving and I don’t see how they are going to check anyone’s passport.”

Mr Landau, who studies history and politics, says he found online learning difficult.

“I couldn’t work in my bedroom, I needed a workspace outside my apartment,” he says. “Going into college now, where everyone is around you, all the hustle and bustle, it’s a lot better and seeing people I haven’t seen since 2020. It hasn’t happened yet, but I think it’s going to be weird when I see someone in person that I only met in an online tutorial.

However, what universities call “blended learning” — a mix of in-person and online teaching — doesn’t always work.

“I have a history class that is given in person one week and online the next week,” says Landau. “The first week was great, but the second week it was awful to come back online, the technology didn’t work and he was just a disaster.

Caitlin Macnab, 19, from Livingston, spent much of her first year studying lockdown politics. Now in her second year and taking face-to-face classes for the first time, she struggles to meet new people.

“I’m quite a social person, but it’s been weird even for me, the last year has been very isolating,” she says. “The only people I’ve met since I started college are the people I shared an apartment with. Year it was like a choice between breaking the rules and making friends, or the following and not knowing anyone. I did the second one and that left me in a very difficult position this year.

“The university staff did their best [to get students to mix] hosting events online, and if you can meet people that way, great, but it wasn’t for me. Now this year I haven’t found an apartment, so I’m living at home again.

She points to a quiet square in Bristo, where a handful of students are enjoying the afternoon sun and a few skateboarders are practicing tricks on the steps.

“To me it seems mental, it’s so busy. When I was walking around here last year it was absolutely deserted. But my sister, who started here two years before me, says it was much more busy than before.”

Anna Fischer, who works at the Brewbox coffee shop in George Square, is delighted to see the pupils again.

“We tried to open last year, but it was completely dead, you could see the tumbleweed,” she says. it’s nice, we see customers who were regulars before – two years ago – who come back and ask us how we are.

However, the business has not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“There are more university staff who are not fully back this year – many of them are still working a few days from home, so it’s still quieter than before,” she says.

Fourth-year Magnus Robertson, who is studying politics at the University of Aberdeen, says while his social life has returned to normal, everything university-related still feels affected by Covid.

He runs a second-hand bookstore for students, which is based in a dedicated room within the student union. While cafes are open in the union building, offices and some rooms used for corporations are not – and Mr Robertson was unable to open the bookstore this year.

“We’re the cheapest place to buy books and a lot of students don’t have the money to buy them new,” he says. He and his fellow students who run the bookstore were allowed into the building to organize stock – albeit one at a time and while wearing a mask.

“It’s still not the full college experience, but there’s so much I’m grateful for now. In the non-college stuff, the experience feels normal because I get to see my friends more and go to places. clubs, but it does. I don’t feel the same about my college work yet,” he says.

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said: “This year the university feels much closer to normal, with the wider student experience also returning to normal alongside changes in society.

“That said, universities continue to prioritize safety and many have been cautious in our plans for this upcoming academic year. We understand that all will limit in-person conferences to any significant size, at least for the first semester, and that a range of mitigation measures will remain in place to give students and staff peace of mind.

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