I grew up on movies, especially the ones about the so-called “great college experience,” one of learning, meeting friends, sitting in great big lecture halls, parties, studying long hours in the library and maybe even finding love.
See, my grandparents did all of that. Back in the 50s, my grandparents were students at the University of Manitoba. One day in the cafeteria, my baba approached my saba and told him that she had heard he “was not a very nice guy,” a ruse perpetrated by another suitor. They have been in love since that day.
That’s the story I had in mind when I applied to the U of M. Lecture halls, cafeterias, libraries, tossing a frisbee on the quad and studying in groups. What I did not imagine was sitting in my room for hours a day on Zoom classes, meeting friends through Instagram and having the closest thing to partying be puzzle-making with my 53-year-old mother.
This story was not only mine, it was the story of almost every student at the university the past two years. I am in my third year and have never once sat in a university classroom.
Rolling out of bed, putting on sweatpants and a shirt and clicking the same link I have clicked every day was awful. Half the class typically had their cameras off, and the other half wasn’t paying attention, because it is tough to learn philosophical logic without the excitement of a Socratic seminar. Or god forbid you were learning a subject where you had to take rigorous notes, because you would miss half of what the professor said and wouldn’t have time to ask for clarification.
But you see, I was lucky. I had a home to live in, a bed to sleep in, food on the table and I was able to work as much as I wanted. Even through the pandemic, I have been a “have” while many of my international peers have not.
To me, university ought to feel like a community where we can all study together, learn together, laugh together and grow together. Without a sense of community, we simply go to a school, and due to the nature of online learning, not a very good one.
I think back to stories told to me by my parents of having fun and going for a drink after an evening lecture. They did not have academic strikes placing their education on hold. They did not have a pandemic that kept them out of the classroom.
It seems the pitfalls of our generation have been unprecedented, and I, for one, am tired of unprecedented times. It would be pretty cool if we could just live through something that has already happened, like the release of the first Harry Potter movie or Abbey Road. Things staying on that scale would be lovely.
Despite all of this, I tried my best during online learning. I have joined the run club, debate club, tennis club, Arts Student Body Council and even bought some Bonsai plants to grow. And yet, I still felt disconnected from all my student peers. The only time I met my professors in-person was on a picket line, and the only time I made school friends was by studying over Zoom. These are not normal experiences, but they are the ones we have all had to go through.
I, like many of you, did not submit an application for the great Zoom experience. In the end, I suppose we can all find solace in the fact that we have gone through it together, not in the corny sense of government advertisements and infomercials, but in a real sense.
The Bison community, although it has its struggles, is full of smart and awesome people. People who just want to meet friends, sit in great big lecture halls, go to parties, study long hours in the library and maybe even find love.
As we transition back to in-person learning and we allow our Zoom subscriptions to expire, it is important that we not only recognize the hardships that may come, but also take the time to appreciate the opportunities that lie ahead.
From Bison Bash to engaging with a wide range of student clubs throughout the school year, members of the student body have the opportunity to move past the COVID-era and open a new chapter in their lives that is not completely ruled by a pandemic.