Young people and COVID-19: College students

Our readers share their thoughts and experiences on life in lockdown and how it has impacted on their time in college

Written by spunout


Recently, we ask our readers to share their experiences of life in lockdown. Young people’s lives have been turned upside down during this crisis, with schools and colleges closing, and many young people losing jobs. As part of a project with the Irish Examiner, we wanted to highlight these stories and give a voice to young people in Ireland learning to cope in this new situation. 

Below, you can read what our readers have to say about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their college lives. 

Young people share their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic

Ross, 20, Dublin

It has been tough staying in and trying to do college assignments, particularly as the percentage of my assessment that would have gone towards my degree has been removed. It has meant looking after my family more and shopping with all the precautions, such as gloves and hand sanitiser. However, it has also meant connecting with other people online through meetings, college societies and through my work with a mental health text line. It has been stressful and I have needed to take more self-care, but checking in with myself and others has helped so much.  

Chloe, 20, Tipperary

Initially, the situation was quite scary and nerve-racking due to the lack of information and clarity, but this was a common issue for everyone. The biggest problem I have found is attempting to do college work. Despite the worry and stress about health, money, etc., being put on families across the country, students (both second level and third level) are expected to continue working as normal. With no access to a library, a suitable study environment, or the necessary books, it makes doing college work more difficult than usual. Of course nothing can be done about this situation, but the refusal of colleges to be more accommodating, and the lack of support from the Department of Education is making the situation harder than it should be. Now should be a time for all students to focus on their families and their health, not trying to get work done.  

Aoife, 21, Leitrim

I’m in my final two weeks of my degree at UCD, and this couldn’t be further from how I imagined it going. Instead of taking library breaks to go sit in the sun by the lake, I’m going from my desk downstairs to chat the dog for a few minutes every couple of hours. I live in a rural location, and feel very lucky to have beautiful walks within my radius to enjoy in the evenings. Also, I thoroughly enjoying spending time with my parents, who I’m sure are overjoyed to have me home and complaining about assignments more than actually doing them. I’ve been at home for a little over six weeks, so this is starting to feel like the new normal, which can be disorienting. College essay deadlines are actually a welcomed structure to my week, something that I will have to compensate for when I’m finished. My friends and I, all living in a relatively close proximity to each other, are in contact with each other now more than ever. Apart from the odd discussion on a new source of information regarding COVID-19, our group chat is a source of humour and distraction, very much needed as of late. I feel very lucky to have been able to move home, and to have parents and extended family who are doing well, but cannot wait until we are allowed to catch up in person again. 

Jessica, 19, Dublin

I am in second year of my physics degree right now, and studying for exams during the pandemic is definitely a different experience. It’s times like these that I feel really grateful for my situation. I’ve kept my job, but I have friends who have been let go, or picked up more hours in essential work that puts more stress on their studies. I’m lucky to be staying with my family, and although I can’t see my friends or boyfriend, I have people to talk to every day, not everyone is so lucky. These are definitely trying times for everyone, and seeing different communities help each other and come up with new ways to support vulnerable people has helped to keep my spirits up. I just hope that everyone in my age group remembers why social distancing is put in place, so that we can help to keep everyone as healthy as possible. 

Denise, 23, Tipperary

The COVID-19 experience has been a strange one. One minute I was in college keeping updated on the Taoiseach’s announcement, soon after the place was completely empty, a ghost town, and you quickly got the sense of how serious a pandemic is. Six weeks on, there is no bread baked, consistent home workouts completed, or a garden bench built from scratch, because the truth is, it’s overwhelming. I was full of enthusiasm about how wisely I would spend my time, and despite a few anxious wobbles about our new normal in the beginning, it was going to plan. The last two weeks though, have been a serious slump and the productivity that was there has since disappeared. As of now, I am lucky if I will even get my assignments submitted on time but any life win, is still a win. Just being realistic is what‘s getting me through now, staying at home is necessary for the sake of our health and I know it won’t last forever, even if it feels that way at times. 

Tara, 20, Kildare

Living during the COVID-19 pandemic so far has been a whirlwind of emotions. As a final year university student, I’ve been very concerned about how my degree will be affected by not being able to attend lectures in person, as well as having limited online sources from lecturers. Trying to find the motivation to sit down and do college work has been difficult as my routine has been flipped on its head. When I realised my last semester of college would be completed remotely, I felt robbed of enjoying the little daily things in college like going for lunch with friends, meeting up to hang out in between lectures, and even wandering around the library looking for seats to study. It really is the little everyday things that we take for granted. The feeling of uncertainty is what I, and most people I know in my position, are experiencing. The uncertainty of if exams at home will show our full potential, the uncertainty of how finding a graduate job will work out in the next coming weeks, and the uncertainty of what the future as a whole has to offer. I am grateful for my health and my friends and family who are only a text or phone call away, but the stress and sense of loss is looming over me now.

Niamh, 20, Cavan

I am a 20 year old, final year Law and Criminology student. For the entirety of my degree, I have lived away from home, and returned every other weekend or so. Due to the lockdown, I have moved back in with my family full time. Although it is wonderful being home and seeing my family every day, the lockdown has made certain aspects of my life extremely hard. Living in rural Cavan, I have no access to WiFi or a reliable mobile data connection. This makes completing my final year essays and exams extremely difficult. This also makes communicating with friends/lecturers/my boyfriend hard. Feelings of isolation are growing, and the fear of failing my final year due to connectivity issues keeps me up at night. I am set to start my Masters in September, and the uncertainty surrounding this has caused me much anxiety. I can only imagine what Leaving Cert students are going through right now with all the confusion surrounding their exams.
Before the lockdown, I made a conscious decision to try and be more eco-friendly – shopping in stores where produce came plastic free, using reusable containers and trying to support smaller local businesses who fight against fast fashion etc. Unfortunately, with the travel limit of 2km and the closure of smaller businesses, my family is forced to resort to buying plastic wrapped produce and are finding it difficult to recycle with travel restrictions.

Max, 20, Cork

I feel the most unmotivated I’ve ever been in a college course that I really enjoyed. I can’t help but procrastinate every day about assignments but I just cannot focus at home. PlayStation just swallows all of the hours I’m at home. I’m struggling to get out of this cycle.

Kathlyn, 21, Cork

I haven’t stopped since the quarantine started. The college work has piled on. We’ve been given work that we would normally do in 10-12 weeks and expected to do it in 4 weeks, with no library resources in houses that mightn’t be suitable for academic work. I’m also still working as I work in a supermarket. Managing it all has been hard. I feel my classmates will have a much bigger advantage over me since I am still working, and a lot of them probably aren’t. This is also my final year, and all of these exams count towards my degree. I feel I was robbed of my last few weeks with my friends and I’m not even sure if I will get a good graduation in October at this point. Feel like finishing 3 years of work cannot be celebrated. Which I find very hard.

Emmet, 21, Roscommon

Due to COVID-19 I’ve had to return home from an Erasmus semester in Paris. For weeks after I returned, I was getting several emails daily about what would happen to my studies- some of them conflicting. My internet connection is poor and I can’t join in live classes- instead I have to download them afterwards. With the rest of my family here I have no suitable space to study or work. None of my family have work online or seem to understand what I’m doing. When I was in college I could use college computers, use the library and I could participate fully in classes. I can’t help but feel I’m at a major disadvantage in my studies because they’ve been put online. Essays are all consuming to me at this time as I can’t focus or work efficiently. I haven’t gained any extra time to do things. All of my energy is put towards trying to stay on top of work. I worry about maintaining this. Things I did for myself, swimming, blogging ( and other things for fun, have fallen to the side. I don’t have time to dwell too much on things. I’m glad this isn’t my final year and I have to remain optimistic that life will be normal by September.

Stefaine, 19, Dublin

I’m a student so I live in Dublin to be close to college. My family lives in Kildare and I was planning on going down to them but then the lockdown kicked in. So I spent Easter and my birthday all alone since I live in a rented house and everyone has left. I don’t need to be in Dublin but I’m basically stuck here and still paying rent out of my own pocket. The only thing getting me through this, is college work, and the fact that at the end of the day I have exams to prepare for. After they end in May I really don’t know what I’ll do with myself. It’s super important to stay in touch with people ‘on the outside’ and I’m grateful to live in a world so connected, even when we’re apart, we’re all still together.

Ben, 20, Tipperary

It’s a bit of a whirlwind. I was supposed to be moving to France for a year as part of my college course but that has been postponed until September at the earliest, with more news in early May. Now I’m doing 12,000 words in college assignments, working remotely on a full-time basis, and trying to be a normal young adult in some kind of a symbiotic universe that is alien to life 10 weeks ago. My work has become more international. We supplied beauty salons previously, but in a total business pivot, we moved into the field of importing PPE for consumers, nursing homes, and businesses. That has involved a totally new sleep schedule where I’m on call from 1am to 3am and 1pm to 7pm to cover all time zones. College has been an experience. Gone are the daily interactions with staff where you could get feedback on work and get scheduled learning. Now it’s listen to the voice-over PowerPoints, if you can and want to, if not just work with what you had in essays that decide your college outcome. As someone with additional learning needs, I’m worried that these exams won’t allow me to express my full knowledge and ability; especially considering the intermittent rural broadband. Other than that, and the fact my grandmother has COVID-19, my mental health has been pretty good. There is always niggling anxiety that comes with all this uncertainty, but now is the time to do ones best and keep the spirits up!

Patrick, 22, Louth

My experience so far isn’t too bad, however my story is about exposing landlords who are still trying to rip students off. I am in college in Maynooth University. We left our rented property on a Friday and expected to return on the Sunday to start a new week at college, but that didn’t happen. We got calls from our landlord asking us to travel up while the country is on lockdown to clean the house, or he won’t give us our deposit back. We highlighted that we were unable to travel, but he persisted with the threat of keeping our deposit. He said he wants it clean as he has new tenants for the house starting in May. The threats were actually a regular thing from this landlord in Maynooth. Two of us travelled down, hired a skip and cleaned the house out. We went down on separate days to avoid mixing as we are all concerned about COVID-19, however, like most landlords in the country, ours just cares about money. This adds extra stress on us as students, and on some of us who are currently also working on the frontline with SuperValu. Landlords like this should be exposed, especially at terrible times like this when communities are uniting to fight against this pandemic.

Tawnya, 22, Carlow

I am Tawnya Foster, 22 years old, and the Vice-President of Welfare & Equality with I.T Carlow Students’ Union. At the start of the college closure, there was a lot of uncertainty amongst students. Specifically, with leaving their accommodation on very short notice, what the rest of the college year was going to look like, and how long this was going to last for. I saw some of the largest volumes of queries from students who needed help than I had ever saw in the whole year. The strain that the complexity and volume of queries had on my own mental health was intense. I also had similar concerns around when things were going to go back to normal, and I felt awful that I couldn’t always answer students queries directly or that it would take a long time for me to answer them. Also, I was adjusting to a new way of working and communicating with colleagues. As a Canadian working in Ireland, I was stuck living in here in a house on my own throughout the lockdown. Personally, I found this to be isolating at times. The longer this lockdown has lasted the more manageable the queries have been working wise; however, the harder personal life has been. As a person who is sociable, loves going to the gym, and enjoys planning, I feel a sense of loss in the ability to plan and loneliness with the lockdown in force.

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