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Life In The Time of COVID-19 And Other Tales

“2020 is going to be my year”..

How many of us in the crowd chanted that as the final bell of 2019 rung? This was going to be the year of getting into shape, focusing on studies, getting a part-time job and finding that, seemingly mythical, social life balance. Needless to say, the traditional year we were picturing has gone rogue. Don’t get me wrong though, the human race is a stubborn, adaptable one and I think we can be proud of our responses to some of what this year has already brought us. Let’s not jump to the end of the story just yet though.

24 February saw the commencement of Trimester 1 here at Griffith. The energy is always a good one to be around. Most students are excited to be back and the crowd is full of new faces just as excited to be in this atmosphere of a new beginning. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after that there were rumours spreading around campus of a “lockdown”. Being a biomedical student and having an epidemiologist for a mum, I’d expected something like this to be the natural course of events with a disease as infectious as COVID. However, no previous knowledge of mine would prepare me for what was to come.

20 March was my last day on campus. I didn’t know it as I shuffled out of the library after a few rounds of de-stress UNO with my friends, I just got onto a bus heading into the city assuming I’d be back next Monday and complaining about my labs for the week. It was on the train ride back home that evening that I received an email from the Dean of Griffith Sciences which explained that all lectures would be moved online by Monday. Before I knew it, borders between territories had closed, travel bans were in place, shopping malls and stores were closing and social distancing rules were implemented for all remaining “essential” situations.

So, here we were. Thrust into a world of Zoom workshops with faulty microphones and that one kid that keeps drawing on the slides, online studying with internet issues and upload failures and heated ProctorU debates on Facebook. I know that I’m not alone when I say in the beginning, it was a mess. Here comes the part in the apocalypse film we are all in where the protagonist picks themselves up off the ground and masterfully deals with the unforeseen challenges. Right? Wrong. It was after many anxious bowls of Ben & Jerry’s and failed meditation sessions that I finally looked over at my discarded year planner and decided that this was not the way I would go down.

Adapting from studying in-person to online has been an ongoing process. It’s been a lot of small steps forward and occasionally getting kicked back dramatically like a character in Street Fighter. Eventually, I came up with a decent strategy and an accompanying mindset to get through the trimester. It mainly involved some serious compartmentalisation skills. It’s tempting to stay up late watching Netflix instead of those 2hr lectures, especially when you’re home all the time and don’t have those beautiful 8AMs encouraging you to leave your bed. I’d figured out that there was less stress if I planned my days out the way we plan our classes during enrolment. One of the factors in my favour was that I didn’t have to travel to campus anymore, which freed up almost 4 hours per day(….I live far out). It allowed me to find a balance between keeping up with my work while still keeping my mental and physical health in check with more regular breaks. So that mission was complete.

Great, my work was in order. Smooth sailing right? Wrong. The next biggest challenge sponsored by COVID was cabin fever. No, I remain a healthy 37°C. I’m referring to being indoors for weeks on end, staring at the four walls of my room and slowly noticing each flaw in the paint. Now, I’m a level-headed person and I usually don’t mind staying in… but there’s something about being told you can’t go anywhere that drives us all a little nuts. We don’t have the option anymore, the freedom. I couldn’t grab a bubble tea on my way home or sleepover at a friend’s place after a night of karaoke or exploring the city. That seems like an insignificant and even selfish problem considering what was happening at the time but we as a species require a certain level of communication and change in routine every so often. Being a responsible human being however, my only choice was to stay indoors.

This prolonged removal from a sense of society and community that I felt in my friend groups and club was a difficult sensation to navigate. Many other people experienced this frustration and even sadness. I drew a lucky card in this respect. Being a Griffith Mate, I had the chance to facilitate Coffee Catch-Ups via Zoom which were incredibly fun and helped me to feel less isolated. It hasn’t ceased to amaze me though, the kind of connections I formed with people that attended those sessions. Again, we humans typically rely on physical contact and presence so much, even though it’s largely an unconscious thing in everyday life. Yet, here I was. Making friends with people that I’d never met, people hours and even entire oceans away in some circumstances. It made me feel less alone and proved to ease some of the bad feelings I’d been experiencing. Friends of mine joined online yoga sessions, Netflix Watch Party’s and just generally video called each other more often. Even amidst the chaos, we’d found our ways of staying connected and there is so much more power in that than we realise.

As restrictions start to ease in Queensland and we look forward to a well deserved break and following trimesters, I hope you are able to look back at all the ways you’ve adapted and handled a world that changed and is continuing to change overnight. I hope you are amazed by the little things like sunshine on your skin and going out with friends and family. Take the time to reflect on the skills you’ve developed without knowing it and all the lessons you’ve learned and hopefully we will re-enter the world with a new sense of gratefulness and understanding of all the ways the world can work – even when it feels like it’s ending.

Here’s to Season 1 of 2020!


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