At first, I was afraid… I was petrified… then life somehow returned to a slightly updated version of ‘normal’. It’s nigh on impossible to write a blog in the ‘mid-covids’, (if that’s what we can call it?) without referring to the ‘C’ word. What an extraordinary time we live in, and for all of us, almost nothing will be as it was for the near future at least. As I was thinking about writing this blog, I was wondering what to focus on, apart from the obvious. But I made a quick list of achievements, even the little things, that I had got done amongst, not going to lie, many weeks of uncertainty, and sheer panic at times. It was an impressive list.
The foremost ‘problem’ I tried to solve, was – and I think I wasn’t the only one – how on earth to keep studying and working towards a goal, when the global goalposts have shifted out of all recognition? Keep calm and carry on was NOT top of my list!
So, this blog will highlight something about my life as a (very) mature student, (!), what I have been doing to keep myself sane, and most importantly what I have learned as a student and now as a post-grad at Exeter, not only academically, but the life skills which have come in very useful indeed!
So, a little about me: I live in an interesting town called Totnes, known globally for its Transition movement and for being a little bit on the alternative side. Pre-lockdown, I was involved in the Transition Film festival and Totnes Cinema, which is more like a club/speakeasy with a bar and grand piano! It mostly runs independent films, and clientele can curl up on a chaise lounge with a blanket if they so desire! I also work part-time running a tango event, and I am very much involved in my town. I live with my sister and an ancient cat (think I got that the right way around…) and spend a lot of time tending my garden, where I grow lots of veggies. I am a part-time student on the MA English Literary Studies/Film Studies pathway.
Life for me didn’t change all that much at first. Apart from the ending of volunteering and my self-employed work, I was mainly at home as usual. As I am only on campus once a week, I didn’t miss the campus much initially, although there are a lot of faces I miss now; those who have graduated whom I wish well, especially finishing this phase of their academic year in such an unusual way! Classes moved to online, which began with much hilarity, and none of us could work out what to do very well! I lost my mic, then other classmates were popping up and going dark every so often on screen. Our seminar tutor kept it together superbly, and I think it was the most we had ever interacted, more so even than inside the physical seminar room. So my point is, that for me, it was fairly comfortable as not much had changed, but for some students it might have been a huge shift going from campus to online, and I can understand that might be hard. But online can be fun, and there’s no temptation to go for a 2 hour coffee break before the train/walk home, which gives extra time to study whilst the ideas are fresh in your mind. Mind you, in the Team video seminar I kept imagining everybody in smart clothes and big, fluffy slippers. Maybe that’s the Film Studies student side of me, always wondering what’s out of shot!
So, that was the beginning. As time went on, and the list of DIY and gardening tasks that suddenly became WAY more important to do than study, I found I started losing my motivation. The essay became huge, like a big shadow lurking in the corner. Luckily, my tutor remained very accessible via email or video chat, and I think that had I not voiced my concerns and got them off my chest, then he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to respond. Thank goodness I contacted him. His advice was great, and very real, and he reminded me to take everything one step at a time, and not run ahead into a panicked state. He also reminded me of deferral options, and suddenly the pressure was off. I kept in touch through writing my essay and got great feedback and advice. As someone who tends to be self-sufficient, I hate asking for help. But not to do so is really not taking advantage of the hugely resourceful and sympathetic staff here at Exeter, so note to self – do it more often!
So that advice, and my own self-discipline with timetables and realistic to-do lists kept me going, not only academically, but also in coping with carrying on in an uncertain world. I can’t wait to be on campus again, in fact getting out of the house will be good! I miss the buzz, the vibrancy, the beauty of the campus too, which inspires thought and productivity. As Dante Alighieri said- “Beauty awakens the soul to act.” And that can be the beauty of being in the company of beautiful minds. I hope everyone got through to the other side of this time, but before we rush back to ‘normal’, think of this:
Never in our lifetimes have we seen eerily empty streets, experienced the silence of no traffic; seen wall to wall blue skies, heard such birdsong; breathed such clean air and had this time to truly contemplate who we are on this fragile earth and what we really want to achieve to make a difference. And how lucky are we that we are in this place, this time, at one of the best universities in the world?