Monday, September 20

Passing the grade without having stepped on the classroom: the university experience in the COVID era

Gloria studies Audiovisual Communication at the University of Murcia and is going to second degree this academic year. Since entering college, he estimates that he has been in classrooms for approximately 20 days. Like her, many other young people have had to live the first years of university experience without being able to attend in person: “The pandemic has prevented us from having the opportunity to live that experience that older people tell us so much about,” she laments.

Unlike last year, most Spanish universities will resume their presence in a few days. Some, such as the University of Murcia or the Carlos III of Madrid, have started the week of September 6, while others, such as the University of Valencia or Alicante, will start the academic year on Monday, September 13. During the beginning of the pandemic, these educational centers took different measures to continue with the classes despite the epidemiological situation, most of them opted after confinement for a hybrid system of face-to-face (little) and telematic classes.

At the University of Alicante, according to Evelyn, a third-year student, they gave the option of following the lessons from home, which led some students to practically not step on the classrooms and not be able to establish direct relationships with their classmates. “Compared with other people, I have been to class a lot and I have been lucky that my friends were always there, but there are people who have not been able to go as much and do not know almost anyone,” she says.

Along the same lines, Gloria also found it difficult to meet new people: “Seeing your colleagues physically only meant being able to greet them and little else, or have a coffee in the canteen if you have someone very trustworthy and know that the risk of contagion is less, “says the student from Murcia.

The case of Diego, a student of the Degree in Marine Technologies, is very similar. He began his studies in the 2019-2020 academic year, the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent confinement caught him fully and he hopes that this year academic activity will be as close to normal as possible. “At the beginning, as they said 15 days, we thought that 15 days of vacation was good. I study in Tenerife and I am from Lanzarote. I returned to my island before the state of alarm was decreed,” recalls Diego. “My university had a hard time adapting to teaching on-line. At the beginning, we didn’t even receive any answers, “he says. During the past academic year, he estimates that he will have walked about 40 times in the classrooms of the Nautical Faculty of the University of La Laguna, in Tenerife.

“The first year, when I arrived, everything was very normal, you left without problems, you could go anywhere, you did not need a mask. It was completely free. Many students met, you went in the afternoon, you went out. It was another much more welcoming and from the student body. It was much more entertaining, “he explains with a certain nostalgia.

Classes have not started yet, but the recoveries of September have and, according to account, until the last moment they do not know if these exams are face-to-face or not. “Everything is a bit unknown until the day before the exam. I think the next course will be full in person because we are all vaccinated. I hope so.” Since social life has been considerably reduced, Diego plays sports with friends every afternoon. “Since I’m going to be all this time without going out, I take advantage and do other things and that has made me get into other activities, to entertain myself in the afternoons and fill that gap.”

Expectations when entering university

Doctor in Sociology Mariano Urraco explains that the situation of these young university students has to do with expectations, created from the collective imagination. “When you enter the university, you already enter thinking about what you are going to find and what you are going to do. And part of that experience fades into the hands of the students who have entered this strange pandemic situation.”

This is part of a series of ideas such as “go to class, have contact [con compañeros], or going to party “, which have changed with COVID-19 and which lead students to adapt to new scenarios:” It will surely affect them, it is difficult to see how and how much, of course it is a situation that is a challenge for them. Having to deal with change, what they expected and expectations, and what they are really experiencing. Because they don’t know when they’re going to start [a vivir] the other, and above all because when they begin to live it they will already be in the third year maybe “, so they will not be able to know what it is to start university in person.

On the other end of the phone, Pablo sounds patient. Although the pandemic, like other 20-year-old students, forced him to take part of his first teaching course from his home in Zaragoza, he considers himself more or less fortunate because, throughout the past year, he was able to go to class for a week. and another not. This year they will repeat the formula, although with more face-to-face practices. “I have been lucky that at least we have been able to go for a week, yes and a week, but I have heard that some races have been carried out entirely online,” he explains.

“On Wednesday 15 we start classes and, as established on the website, it is still the face-to-face week and the week on-line. Except for the days of practice, which I understand that we will go, “he anticipates.

Five pre-pandemic friends

Ángela, who is also 20 years old and studies Law at the Carlos III University of Madrid, tells with amusement that the friends from the university with whom she has been related since she began her career in 2019 are exactly five, the five people she met at the first semester before confinement. Since then, meeting people or even doing group work has been much more difficult.

“In these years, apart from the fact that it has been more difficult to learn on-lineFor example, when it comes to asking questions, it has been very difficult to meet your friends or meet new people, “he says from the other end of the phone. This Monday he has already gone to the university to attend a presentation day.

“When we had to do group work with people we did not know, it was all on WhatsApp and on the day of the presentation, when we went to university, you did not have the same confidence as when you have been with another person preparing a job for a week”, Angela regrets, although she admits that, little by little, they are having the feeling that everything is returning to normal.

Even with everything, Mariano Urraco is not negative with this new university experience: “It is a question of how they know how to adapt,” the expert points out. “There is a clear psychological component of the person with himself; and there is a social component, how these young people are doing different things, but they are also doing things together, even if it is online or with bubble groups. Even if they do not see each other every day, surely they will be developing dynamics and tactics to maintain a little contact and to live the experience “, develops the sociologist.

The reason for this search for adaptation and for relating even if not in person is that “socializing is part of our way of being and our human essence. It is always socialized, even if you do not have the possibility of meeting with colleagues after class and sit on the lawn, you sit on a virtual lawn, “says the doctor in Sociology.

This is what happened to Gloria, who had to use virtual meeting applications to interact with her colleagues. “I did not have the opportunity to make many friends when I could hardly see each other physically, although with my three closest friends we used to use the Zoom application a lot to spend the afternoon, although that was mainly because we were in the same work group for two subjects” , says the young woman from Murcia.

Urraco points out that, although what is understood as “normal” continues to be the face-to-face university experience for many people, “you have to see that the ways of relating to each other change over time.” In the same way, “no longer people go to the laundry either, and we cannot say that people in the villages do not relate,” concludes the doctor.

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