The Shift to Online University – From A Student’s Perspective

My name is Lorraine Helen Stanciu. Originally of Romanian ancestry, I was born here in Dublin in 2001 and spent all of my academic years in Ireland. It has been a mish-mash of cultures – speaking Romanian at home to my parents, consuming Romanian cuisine and following Romanian traditions as well as becoming more fluent in English than Romanian, learning a good bit of Irish, having multi-cultural friends and submerging myself within the culture of Ireland. It is definitely a strange feeling of being in between the two cultures. I feel like I don’t 100% fit in with Irish people nor Romanian people but somewhere in the middle.

I joined Maynooth University in September 2019. I currently study Law and Business together. In this blog post, I just want to focus on dealing with the online shift of university (which I’m still not completely accustomed to).  

I got a small taste of campus life in Maynooth. Despite not having had much of a social life because I chose to focus on my degree (and a lot of study was required), I definitely had my inner circle of friends. We got lunch together, studied together, took the train home together. I still remember when the pandemic was first announced last February, I was in the library drinking coffee with my friend. The announcement came through that the campus was shutting down for two weeks over the midterm break. I remember feeling elated, knowing that I’d have a small break from all of the studying I was doing. Little did I know, I’d be stuck at home for a year.

It soon turned into a nightmare – waking up, going to online lectures and barely being able to focus, going to sleep, rinse and repeat. The same mundane routine, day in and day out. I felt like I was learning maybe at 30% capacity than what I used to learn at. The course material just flew over my head, no matter how many times I sat down and properly tried to study it. It felt like lecturers were just piling MCQs over assignments and I suddenly felt like an overworked horse. Last semester I actually had 4 deadlines in the same week and 3 of them were on the same day. I was lucky enough to be granted an extension but I know from friends and acquaintances that other lecturers were not so understanding. I began feeling lost, weighing the pros and cons of even attending university anymore.

And to be honest, not much has changed. And one might say “oh but Lorraine, it’s been a year of online university, you should be well used to it by now”. Yes and no. Online university feels more natural than it did a year ago but regardless, it’s just not the same as physical lectures. The sudden shift to online classes really deteriorated my mental health. I’m not used to such limited socialising nor staring at a computer screen excessively in a day. And I know I’m definitely not the only student feeling this way. I’d wager that about 80% of students have had their mental health slowly deteriorate over the three online semesters.

Some of the group assignments I’ve been given are quite hands-on and related to the practical field of business which would require a lot of in-person research. Considering the pandemic, the most we can do as students is find out pre-existing information or e-mail the company for further information. But I really don’t think these types of assignments are considerate of the pandemic.

Of course, there are bad days and good days, it’s only natural. I’ve found that taking a good amount of time for myself a few times a week really helps me stay on track. I’ve been trying to distract myself by working out regularly and pursuing my driver’s licence. But this period of time has definitely been a struggle, trying to normalise online university, waking up and doing the same thing in my room. I can only hope that in-person classes will soon resume – I’ll be eager to get back on campus and just remember the pandemic as a bad dream.

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