Last September, as a naive, excited first-year-to-be, it was disappointing to learn that semester one would be entirely online. Already dealing with the disillusion of missing out on Trinity Hall due to reduced numbers this year, I was determined to make the most of the situation, and grasp a true college experience. So I packed a bag and moved into student accommodation in Dublin.
The first week was as awkward as expected: I tried to get to know my housemates and clung to any other first years in my accommodation. Still feeling a residual post-lockdown bliss from summer, we were able to convene together in communal areas, and I even met some of my course mates in Stephen’s Green. My hope of making new friends was spiking, but when a level-five lockdown was announced, that seemed to diminish. I was confined to just seeing my flatmates, and to Zoom calls with my course mates. Suddenly the bustling streets of the big city weren’t so packed, and the promise of a semi-normal first year was dwindling just as fast as the crowds.
My daily routine quickly turned into not leaving my boxy, grey room until well into the day, as live classes and recorded lectures had me tied to my desk. I started going into the library to switch my days up, but the distanced seating and the fact I had no idea where anything was really impaired my ability to meet anyone. The only way I met another first year was if they approached me to ask where their seat was. I would admit to them I had no clue either, ask their name, and promptly follow them on Instagram. I liked to think of it as a desperate struggle to pre-save a friend for next year.
As the days got colder and shorter, a proposed “coffee and socially distanced walk in Stephen’s Green” got increasingly less appealing, until the evenings in my flat were the only opportunity to socialise. I met the people in my accommodation in the evenings, but it was more for tea and biscuits than prinks and parties, and we were always running the risk of getting caught by staff. Even just sitting around playing Uno was a violation of the guidelines.
As the days got colder and shorter, a proposed “coffee and socially distanced walk in Stephen’s Green” got increasingly less appealing
Living alone in Dublin was difficult, and quite lonely. Each night alone in my room was met with the frustration of “why can’t I just have a normal first year?”, and every opportunity of socialising in groups was met with a strange “coronavirus guilt”. The chances to meet anyone new were few and far between, and, even as an independent person, it was difficult to adjust to student accommodation in that environment. Speaking to friends from home who were going through similar experiences, the phrase “I wish everyone had to go home, so we didn’t have a choice, so we wouldn’t miss out on anything” frequently came up. We were there, we were trying, but trying and failing just highlighted how much we were missing.
This semester, with confirmation that the full year would be completely online, I decided to move home to Clare. It was a difficult decision, highly influenced by my friends from home doing the same thing. My mentality was that at least I have my friends, my car and the beach at home. Packing up my college room and cancelling my contract did come with a pang of failure, but I tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t be getting any better this year.
Surrounded by family, farmland, and home-cooked meals, staying at home was a new kind of lonely. Although the experience was reminiscent of the first lockdown, the days felt more monotonous than ever. I thrive off structure, and being at home I could structure my days to the extent that each one would be exactly the same. This tedious routine only had one upside – productivity. Being at home, I know there is absolutely nothing better to be doing with my time than working, so I sit at my desk, rolling through one prerecorded lecture after another. This productivity is slightly encouraging, but I can’t help but think a less productive, more well-rounded college experience would satisfy my needs so much more.
The evenings at home are long, and difficult to fill. I try my best to do something worthwhile in that time, but I often succumb to the warm glow of Netflix, trying to avoid my friends’ Instagram stories of college parties at closer, livelier universities. I still feel the frustration of missing out on first year, and a hint of failure at coming home after one semester. I just have to remind myself that there’s no ideal place to be, and hope for a better run at it next time.
Packing up my college room and cancelling my contract did come with a pang of failure, but I tried to convince myself that it wouldn’t be getting any better this year.
Having now experienced both, I find it hard to say which lodging I preferred for my virtual first year of college. Student accommodation gave me a slither of socialising, but immense frustration at the reality that there wasn’t much going on. At home I get lots of work done, but I would sacrifice the majority of that work for a night out with college friends in an instant. At first it seems like a choice between being selfish and being safe, but really there are sacrifices to be made in both places. Wherever I am, this year seems to be a social write-off, unless I can convey my full personality over a Zoom call. For now, I will stick to the “can’t wait to meet you in person!” texts from potential friends, and brace myself for the true college experience some time soon.