Students returning to post-secondary campuses after more than two years of pandemic obstructions say they are excited to take advantage of the benefits of in-person learning.
For Hansen Zheng, a second-year neuroscience and psychology student at the University of Toronto’s downtown campus, that feeling is tinged with some jealousy related to missing out on the typical orientation experience last year.
“There were some events, but not on the grand scale of this year's orientation,” he said about his 2021 introduction to campus life. “I see people doing all the rallying, they go to football games, all sorts of things. Last year, it was me sitting down in my room and doing a Zoom call with a bunch of people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an outsized impact on young people, especially students trying to absorb knowledge to advance their career aspirations without the benefit of group study sessions at the library or the ability to hang back to speak to a lecturer after class.
“I feel like we didn't really get what we wanted to out of the last two years of high school,” said Amaan Sheikh, who attended a British curriculum high school in Abu Dhabi. “I feel like I didn't kind of achieve — I feel like there was more potential, but because of online school, that kind of held us back. At least, that's my take.”
The prospect of missing out on the benefits of being on campus for university prompted Riu Bhalerao, an international student from India, to take a gap year after high school and delay his arrival in Canada until late last month.
“I don't want to just sit in front of a laptop the whole day,” said the 19-year-old economics student, noting the high cost of tuition for students coming from abroad.
The shift back to an in-person school schedule is going to require more focus for chemical engineering student Abel Rodriguez after a year’s co-op work placement and a year before that when the curriculum was made as accessible as possible.
“When I was studying from home, it was a lot more comfortable because I could wake up basically like moments before class, be at class, get ready, study and then just, like, take it in afterwards,” the 21-year-old said, noting online classes were recorded and could be reviewed earlier in the pandemic but that is no longer guaranteed.
“I need to be a little bit more attentive, a little bit more focused,” he said.
U of T’s return to campus policy includes a requirement to wear a non-medical mask or face covering in all common-use indoor spaces, including classrooms and residences. Students do not have to be vaccinated to attend in-person classes, while those living in residences must have at least one booster dose.
Morgan Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer