How COVID Changed My Life
by Arjun Doraiswami
Even after 4 months, I can still vividly remember the confusion that followed the University of British Columbia’s decision to move towards online classes and closedown campus in March. The university’s decision, while a prescient one, was one that made lives difficult for all students, as many of us are used to the “normal” routine of physically attending classes, commuting from home to university, seeing our peers, friends and professors and even doing some chores between classes.
The transition to online classes posed a panoply of challenges for me. As one might imagine, within the first week of remote instruction becoming the new norm, all of my professors were given the challenge of adapting their courses to a structure that not only allowed for them to continue to teach- but to also ease the burden upon their students, of assignments, essays and exams. On reflection, this was an incredibly considerate approach: it took into account the fact that students were already coping with multiple and unprecedented stress factors including how to pay rent, getting back home and worrying about the safety of their loved ones far away, quite apart from the novel challenges of dispensing with the comfort of friendship groups, because of social distancing practices. While this move was incredibly generous and far-sighted, it also suddenly increased the value of that last essay or final assessment, in terms of its overall contribution to our grades.
One the other hand, I suddenly had much more time on my hands to work on my essays, to increase my weekly readings and to complete all the work I had accumulated in general, allowing me to fully keep up with my work as a 4th year history student (which was, and continues to be, much appreciated!) It also gave me an abundance of time to prepare and apply for a Masters of Management program at UBC, and to plan and complete all of its compulsory requirements including a GRE and an admission interview. In all honesty, I doubt that I would have been able to get into the program without having had so much time open on my schedule, which I could dedicate toward this application.
As an international student, the hardest choice I faced was whether to stay back in Canada or go back home to India before lockdowns were enforced in both countries. On the one hand, I did want to see my parents, if nothing else for the emotional comfort of ensuring they were well, and to reassure them that I too was fine. On the other hand, there were the uncertainties of how the world of international travel would look, in a post-pandemic situation, and how long it would take to get to that point. Finally, even though the temptation to go home was strong, I decided to stay in Canada. I figured that at a minimum, I would not have to attend my classes at the less-than-welcome early hours of the morning. Moreover, if I stayed on, I could also ensure that I could enter the Master’s programme without any hindrances–which might have become uncertain if I had gone home to India. Indeed, with international travel still being an open question, foreign and out-of-state students who chose to go home are now unsure of whether they can return to their universities. Of course, this was a least-worst option, since it also meant that those of us who elected to stay are also stuck on this end, unsure of when we can travel home to meet friends and family again.
Overall, I would say that it has undeniably become much easier to cope with an online world than it was before. Working remotely from home has now become a second nature for my peers and myself, as well as working professionals. I think we are living in an incredibly transformative period of time, where we are becoming more adaptable to different working environments; we are perhaps at a pivotal point where the traditional image of an office, and the linkage between office hours and productivity might be changing forever. It may well be possible soon for our world to have successful businessmen, education specialists, students and teachers continuing to succeed even while working from home.
It is also true that once our expectations of what is “normal” reduced, it became harder for many of my classmates and myself to maintain friendships and relationships with others, especially when the context of meetings and interaction had changed. Once people became replaced by a screen and an online profile of themselves, it became difficult to communicate; it was almost as if one vital thread had gone out of our context. It made me realize that as young adults growing up in the age of fast internet, technology and social media, it is actually far too easy to withdraw from each other and become preoccupied with online trends and self-image. Quarantine and social distancing made me realize that the only things that truly matter are how we act towards one another. As the challenges of online classes reduces and as online interaction improves, and productivity from home improves, social connections will also become shorter and more fleeting. It is vital therefore to make them more impactful, so that we retain relevance in the lives of others. With this heightened responsibility, it is my hope that we come out of this with more patience, kindness and understanding of others.
Arjun Doraiswami, 21 years, Class of 2020, University of British Columbia, Vancouver