I think it’s more than fair to say that the past year and a half has been one of the toughest challenges we have all faced as students. Academically, financially, and socially, most of us have reached our limit of being in captivity.
After receiving the email stating that campus would close in-person classes in March 2020, my parents gave me the order to reschedule my return flight to that same night, pack up whatever was necessary, and leave everything else behind. I felt like a criminal fleeing the country in less than 12 hours. In a daze, I let my close friends and relatives know that I was leaving that night, begged them to temporarily store my belongings in their homes, grabbed my last meal from Quesada, and boarded a 19-hour flight home to Singapore.
What came next was both a dream and a nightmare.
First, let’s cook up the nightmare. The last time I studied at home was in high school; every other time I returned since beginning university, has only been for holiday. My brain could not accept the fact that I was here to study instead of to relax. Next in the recipe was the added spice of Mississauga and Singapore’s 13-hour time difference. I am neither a night person nor a morning person but staying awake all night just to attend synchronous lectures and get participation marks was not enjoyable. Staring at a black and white PowerPoint screen from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. every day was not as engaging as binging the hottest new Netflix series all night. The final garnish came in the form of renovations that my downstairs neighbour conveniently decided to start right in the middle of midterms.
I don’t know if I could call what I learned in my online courses learning per se. I attended the classes and satisfied what my professors expected of a ‘good student making the most of an unprecedented situation,’ but did I actually learn anything? Couldn’t tell you—it’s all a blur. I barely remember what I wrote in my assignments because apparently more time at home meant twice as many papers. I can recall basic concepts from each class, but my learning capacity and retention have diminished since switching to virtual learning. It felt like my capabilities as a person dwindled along with my learning. I think we all share the similar sentiment to a certain extent.
I won’t lie; I was in bad shape, physically and mentally, after a rough year and a half of studying online. I imagine a lot us must have been on the same boat. But curiously enough, acting as my knight in shining armour at the perfect time, a dream started to unfold simultaneously. My family finally decided to adopt a puppy and a kitten after years of pleading. The two of them brought so much joy to the house and never failed to bring a smile to my face. I found myself staring at them play and destroy our furniture for long durations, thinking about nothing and simply being present in the moment.
I realized I was home, in a truly holistic sense. Being home with my family and pets by the tropical sea was a dream, just as studying online and battling time-differences was a nightmare.
As I return to Canada for the upcoming year, I look back at my experience of international student life amidst the pandemic and feel a tingling sense of pride. Without a doubt, we have witnessed devastation and suffering over the past two years. While my experience does not encapsulate everyone else’s, I think we can all reflect on the challenges we faced, both individually and collectively, and be proud of the fact that we are still standing.
Looking to the future, I can envision myself and all of us slowly putting ourselves back together, reviving our curiosity, our passion for the things we love, and our desire to learn new things. It’s going to be another challenge, but it’s one I think we’re a little more ready for.