Returning to university for someone in their second year of any degree can be a very strange experience even in normal times.
This year, for many including me, it feels even stranger, returning to an already familiar campus, despite spending only four months residing there before moving back to parents’ homes for the rest of the year, for online-only learning.
The past academic year has been difficult for everyone. As the foundation year of my degree was interdisciplinary, taking the same modules as students going on to different degrees, now that I’m on campus again at last, it feels weird to have people acknowledging me. Although some people are easier to recognise than others, for those who I haven’t been in contact with online, I keep thinking ‘do I know you?’ as I have probably only met about five of my course mates in-person out of a cohort of 90-100 strong.
Former first years (going into their second year) and foundation year students (going into their first year) have been able to experience some sort of freshers’ week for the first time, as the University of East Anglia, like most, if not all, universities, reintroduced face to face events (possibly with a cap on how many can attend), alongside lectures and seminars. However, the UEA are taking a blended approach to learning until Christmas (at the earliest) with seminars being face to face and lectures being pre-recorded. This is because seminars are taught in small groups, compared to a lecture which could consist of a couple hundred students in one room. Other universities may have opted for a blended approach as well.
For the current foundation/first year students who haven’t been to their university campus outside of an Open Day, despite advancing a year, they’ll still feel like a newbie as they suss out where everything is. It’s one thing having a campus tour and a different thing entirely wandering around the campus and navigating it on your own.
When I returned to Norwich, things haven’t run as smoothly as I would have liked. Living off-campus means that I have to get the bus to uni, which isn’t straightforward as there’s currently a shortage of drivers, resulting in service cancellations. On the plus side to living where I like – students aren’t guaranteed on-campus accommodation after their first year at the university – I no longer have to get two buses to a single destination as I decided against living with other students and opted for my own flat in the city. The UEA also decided to go for a new timetabling software for the start of the academic year. Of course, anything new brings teething issues, and a lot of first year students, myself included, didn’t receive their timetables straight away. However, by the second/third week of the semester, things had managed to sort themselves out.
It feels very weird being in my second year at the university but being in the first year of my degree. Attending in-person seminars is a lot better than having seminars online as my eyes don’t get sick of constantly looking at a computer screen. Also having recorded lectures is extremely beneficial as, once uploaded, they are there to be referred back to and I can watch them in my own time, pausing to take notes rather than having to refer back to illegible writing from having to keep up. I can even refer back to last year’s modules if I need to, as I still have access to the PowerPoint slides and the recordings.
I can confidently say to any freshers that their time at university will be over before they know it, as it doesn’t seem five minutes since I was a stranger to the campus of which I now call home.