If the experiences of a fourth-year University of Toronto student were condensed into a short story to be analyzed by a high school English literature class, the overarching theme would be adaptation. Every semester has been drastically different, throwing us into the waters of new endeavours just as we got the hang of the previous one. From adjusting to the academic rigour of university in first year, then to a pandemic, then to online school, and then returning to in-person learning, we have spent more time adapting to our ever-changing environment than enjoying an invaluable learning experience: undergrad. The pandemic may have led us to continually evolve with the mandates, it also acted as an avenue for us to re-evaluate our experiences and learn to cherish what we do have.
Most fourth-year U of T students have spent one academic year in-person since starting university, compared to two online academic years. I’ve done summer classes since first-year, so I’ve spent three semesters in-person and six semesters online. I adapted well to online classes because I could spend less time commuting, and my home was a comfortable setting. While I recognize my situation was optimal compared to most of my peers’, integrating to in-person made me realize how much I’d missed out on while studying outside of the campus’ boundaries.
University is a significant catalyst in developing social skills and a sense of self. The pandemic made university an isolating experience, with social interactions being limited to Zoom meetings, class group chats becoming abandoned after finals, and connections being reserved to merely recognizing profile pictures. The added aspect of worrying for our loved ones and our own well-being made the past few years overwhelming. Self-development for some remained stagnant as time was spent in home environments.
Returning to in-person learning offered the opportunity to experience meaningful social interactions, form stable friendships, indulge in hobbies, and discover new interests. These were things I took for granted during my pre-Covid-19 semesters. Everything that I believed was mundane, such as joining a club, studying on campus, and making friends during office hours turned out to be little details that paint the canvas of our university experience.
I now understand that constantly adapting to our environment grants us an ability to live in the moment and find the beauty in our now bustling surroundings.
Knowing this will be my last year of undergrad is a bittersweet feeling. The thought of no longer needing an abysmal sleep schedule to stay on top of homework and studying is euphoric. However, I will miss school clubs, studying with friends while making new friends, ranting about classes, going to school events, and most importantly, the geese. Despite how mentally taxing university has been, I have started to find myself. I’ve picked up new hobbies, met excellent professors, and gotten better at problem-solving through the years. I’ve spent the last three focused on academics in Zoom university, but this year will be spent valuing the little things.
We have become chameleons—constantly adapting to our surroundings to survive. In this state, we have learned that sometimes a little rain is needed to appreciate the sunshine. In this case, our rain was more of a symbolic hurricane. Our hurricane taught us to embrace the warmth of the sun before the warmth dissipates. Undergrad is a one-of-a-kind experience, and it is time we embrace it!