Student Life in the Pandemic and the Feeling of Loss

Future of learning
What it meant to have been physically absent in a university classroom this year

In March 2020, universities around the world began closing down physical classes one after the other. The students had to decide whether to stay back in the country, learn from their dorm, or quickly move back to their home country before flights shut down. It was one of the most challenging times for so many Indian students abroad because there was no idea of how long the shutdown will be, and more than that, will they be allowed to be back at their university campus?

In the United States, nearly 400,000 cases were reported across more than 1,800 campuses. It caused about 47% of colleges and universities to opt for remote learning or choose a hybrid-version of enabling classes. In countries such as Australia, schools implemented curfews to disrupt the spread.

The concept of remote learning became more and more mainstream, followed by students and university professors. We saw a massive flow of webinars over zoom and regular student meet-ups that were aimed at providing any mental support needed. This year was all about remote classes, technical glitches, zoom recordings, pandemic stress, and missing an entire year from the university classroom.

While this year was supposed to be the year for many students preparing to enter into a world that they wanted to call their own, to explore and discover as they would have liked it, it, unfortunately, turned out to be otherwise. Even though many of those opportunities still exist, they look a bit different than before. This kind of surprise could easily take a big toll — and in many ways, it did for many students around the world. According to a published report, a recent survey of 1,300 college students in the U.S., U.K., and Canada depicted that 54% of respondents said they often or always feel like they can’t control essential aspects of their life, including financial stability. In the same group, about 60% lost some or all of their income during this time. About 50% felt that they wouldn’t be financially stable once they graduated from their chosen universities.

Wondering what it meant to have been physically absent during a university classroom this year?

Covid-19 has turned out to be one of the most transformative and unpredictable pandemics in the history of our times. It has fundamentally altered the way we live and work, especially how we study and perceive education.

It is certainly by no means very difficult to determine and understand why many students felt exhausted. Their loved ones were getting sick, and virtual classes were not only new but also highly energy-draining. With time it only became increasingly difficult to focus for several students. This was primarily due to worries about repaying loans, eventually finding a job, and contemplating the country to make their new home.

This problematic year has seen many virtual graduation parties, postponed internships, and saw students caught in between contemplating career choices. Additionally, Covid-19 fundamentally altered all that students desired from their jobs and particularly their lives. This only led to the whole situation becoming unique because we saw something as grave as Covid that involved both money and disease for the first time.


In March 2020, universities around the world officially switched to remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A year later, university students were surveyed to measure how the students felt about the experience. According to a report, of the survey’s 469 respondents from faculties across a selected university, 89.7% were undergraduate students, with graduate students pursuing their master’s or PhD making up 8.8% and 1.5%, respectively.

While overall, students reported generally favouring learning conditions, many of the respondents expressed they felt it had been relatively timely to reflect what the pandemic had meant to them. While speaking to a news magazine, a fourth-year faculty of agricultural and food sciences undergraduate pointed out that students who cannot travel to the campus were initially at a disadvantage due to high shipping costs for unique items from the campus bookstore. The report further went on to mention that a number of them had to pay a minimum of three times the shipping as they did for the actual lab manual. However, the situation was slowly changing and becoming better.

During the pandemic, access to library resources was also a mild concern for several students. People who had chosen more specialized fields found themselves juggling many restrictions like access to the libraries.

Students overwhelmingly reported that they were feeling isolated from their peers. About 72.6% of respondents said that they felt less connected with other students than last year, and only 9.1% reported any degree of increased connection.

“I feel more connected as students are mobilizing and coming together on apps like Telegram,” a second-year faculty of arts undergraduate said in an interview to a news magazine.

It was reported that it was mainly first-year undergraduate students who struggled with the remote learning format. About 82.2% felt less connected to their peers and requested to use forms to create opportunities for them to be more interactive and connected. However, according to the same report, many students wrote that they looked for more empathy from their professors. They seemed to have been bothered by the lack of flexibility and dependence on the internet. Being in different time zones was only an addition to their woes.

“I have some classes that use four to five different interfaces, and it is so, so, so confusing trying to find and remember where things are. They need to use one portal because when five classes use different interfaces each, I have to manoeuvre between 10 different webpages and apps at minimum for content,” said one of them in an interview with an organization

I felt difficult throughout the year.

According to several reports, these surveyed students reported a high degree of stress and loneliness. About 54% of them felt that they could not control what mattered the most in their lives. About 56% of them complained of feeling isolated from others, and about 15% had worried about their safety, safety of their folks back home, food security, or housing in the past year. Not only this, many of them were finding it extremely difficult to think about the future. Reportedly, 60% believed that they would not find a job, 58% felt that they would struggle to meet living expenses, and about 50% of them were worried about experiencing financial instability upon graduation.

Complaints of exhaustion, overloading, and worsening mental health were amongst a few things that came to their minds first. According to a report, 85.6% said their workload had increased over the past year, 55% said it had grown a lot, and less than 5% of respondents said their workload had decreased at all. A whopping 89.9% of respondents agreed that they felt they were working continuously. Further, about 72.2% of students surveyed strongly agreed that they were more tired than before and found it increasingly difficult to focus.

As a student, there are sometimes days when I’m on Zoom more than I sleep. It’s complicated, and it hasn’t gotten easier with time,” said a student in an interview with a news organization.

Across segments, students preferred multiple smaller assignments to feel less pressurized. However, one group has faced more intense pressure than any other remains to be nursing students subsection. They have had the additional stress of working on [COVID-19] outbreaks. It has interrupted their clinical learning and made them constantly worry that they might be putting the people they live with love at risk. As per a news report, in an interview with a fourth-year nursing undergraduate, it came out that the pandemic and the stress with it made many of the students question whether they should pursue this degree or not. Working through difficult situations doesn’t seem like a new concept for nursing students, but doing it amid a pandemic certainly impacted different ways.

Stories of some students

“I think this year, the first year of my college abroad, was a real chance to step out and be on my own. I have lost that chance – during virtual classes. I miss the feeling of being on my own, of hanging out with students who are from another country, doing things on my own, and just feeling free while studying this subject that I want to make my life”.

“It has been just so pressurizing in many ways. I was at my university in Spain for a bit, but then I had to return home. I’ve been here since then, and it seems like I am just losing time. I have begun questioning the relevance of my degree and have just been wondering if I should change my specialization looking at how careers are changing and society is evolving.”

“I made it to my university last fall. However, we all are keeping indoors even now, and there’s hardly been a real experience of what studying abroad normally may look like. I haven’t got a chance to explore the country, and it feels like the year just went by. What a loss!”

However, there seems a silver lining.

Even in a Pandemic, it was discovered that many students demonstrated a heightened concern for helping others. These students only hoped to find work that fulfilled a greater purpose. Specifically, it was found that many students reported increased interest in pursuing careers that they perceived were helpful to society. The single highest priority was to have a job that allowed them to help other people.

In light of the economic recession, students seem to desire to have a purposeful career and a job that can result in high income and basic job security.

It was reported that the work-relevant motivation to help other people was influential for students who engaged in existential thinking. Many of them who spent their time reading, thinking about, discussing their beliefs, or thinking about the meaning of life reported feeling 3 to 5 times strongly about choosing a career that helped others. They looked for employment that served the world than students who did not spend time engaging in deep thinking and reflection.

Tomorrow is another day

While the last year was indeed challenging for thousands of students worldwide, the one thing that remains is their belief in the power of getting a global education. Despite a pandemic and everything being home-bound, what came out was that students learned way differently in another country than one’s own. As the western nations slowly open up, it will only be exciting to see how universities switch to exciting models.

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