This is what it’s like to be a fresher during a pandemic

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  • Zoom lectures? Track and Trace? Online cocktail-making classes? Cambridge Uni student Kayinsola Amoo-Peters reveals why the 2020 freshers experience has been like no other...

    ‘Everyone begins university with a sense of longing for a fresh start and an expectation of what their first few weeks will look like: going to parties with unfamiliar faces, stumbling back to your room at 3am with a 9am lecture looming over your head like an overbearing parent, meeting lovely new people and then never seeing them again for the duration of your degree.

    This first term, however, has been undoubtedly different. After about four months of limited social interaction, no A-Level exams and just a bizzare year in general, coming to university – a place where socialising is essential for survival – has been interesting, to say the least.

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    First year university student Kayinsola

    I go to Cambridge, so freshers week has always been somewhat different to other universities across the country – I mean, what other uni sets a 2000-word essay on Karl Marx before term even starts? But this year was completely outside the realms of normality – with a severe lack of parties, I ended up spending my freshers week bonding with my new housemates over a virtual cocktail making class in our kitchen.

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    A sign for a Covid testing centre on Cambridge University campus

    Not only is socialising much harder with social distancing regulations and the beloved ‘rule of six’ in place, but the threat of getting COVID-19 is always present. In addition to worrying about making friends, staying on top of work and having enough money to survive the term, I and other students have ‘potentially catching a deadly disease’ to add to our list of worries. Fixating on who I’ve been in contact with the night before and whether they’ve tested positive recently has, at this point, become such a normalised aspect of my life that I genuinely can’t picture my university experience without it.

    With the second lockdown approaching, I’ve had time to reflect on my experience as a fresher throughout the pandemic, and although there have been significant changes to the ‘usual’ university experience, I’m grateful to have attended this year. I’ve managed to meet some amazing people – even whilst social distancing – and have made some incredible friends in the time that I’ve been here, which I admittedly was worried about, as a black student in a notoriously white institution.

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    Kayinsola pictured with her new friends on campus

    Say what you want about going to university in these COVID times; yes, the tuition fees should have been lowered and, yes, there should be much better mental health support in place for students, but being able to get up for your 9am lecture at 8.59am and watching it at 1.5x speed has been beautiful. And the best part: no one has to know that you’re still in your dressing gown. To be honest, that’s a win in my book.’

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