But in a pandemic, the reality is far from this spectacle. Instead, it’s hugely lonely.
When the pandemic started last March, I moved home. I moved back to the little town that I grew up in to be with my family. At the start, I cherished being home among loved ones, and we really tried to make the most of it. But when you are on a course with so few contact hours, the loneliness inevitably begins to engulf you.
Averaging around five hours of contact a week, I had surplus hours in my day to do what I wanted. It meant that if I scheduled to go on a run one day, I had too much time to complete it. I would push it back and back until it was no longer light, and I had wasted another day.
Outside of my five hours of contact, I would just sit at my desk. Staring out the window, I would wonder what life was like when I used to sit in lecture theatres, surrounded by hundreds of other students. It really is the small things in life that you miss when you become so removed from the world that you feel you are disappearing. I missed sitting next to my friends and running into a seminar late to find they had saved a seat for me. I missed waiting outside a lecture theatre speaking to those people who you vaguely know but are always really kind to you. I missed sitting down with my skinny decaf latte pretending to be a student from a movie. By the time it got to May, and I sat alone at the desk where I had worked for months on end, I realised I missed those small moments in life that bring happiness.
Every single day until June felt the same. It was monotonous and it was tiring. I would sit with my family and we would have a lovely time eating lunch, but then I would move back upstairs to my bedroom to work. There, I would feel the resurgence of the pressure of being alone hit me once again. At around May, I had three essays to write. The work expanded so much that I had no other time to fill with anything that I enjoyed. Reading? No time for that. Zoom quizzes? No time for that. Walks with friends? No time for that.
The issue with loneliness is that it consumes the free time that you do have. Instead of figuring out where I could go and what I could do on my weekends, I sat there panicking about my work. Because I felt so down during the week, my progress was slow. Therefore, I did not feel like I had earned treats at the weekend, like walking down my local canal, or getting a takeaway coffee with my friend. I was punishing myself by forcing more work into my already study-heavy timetable.
Loneliness engulfed my life, and it took me until my deadlines had passed to realise this. Once summer came, I started thriving again, and appreciating the things I had around me. But, for those few months, it was a real struggle. I want to say that you should try and look after yourself even when those moments of stress are unbearable. When the loneliness hits, be kind to yourself, because I know that as a student, it is really hard at the moment. I feel your pain, and I also miss the hustle and bustle of uni life.