Returning from Uni to Lockdown in Sheffield

Like many students over the past few months, I completed my undergraduate degree back home in Sheffield during the UK’s coronavirus lockdown. Instead of spending my days in the library and my evenings in the campus pub, I spent my days in my house studying and the evenings… also in my house!

But what is it really like when you come back from University expecting to be away for just the Easter holidays, and then slowly realise you’re never going back? And what is it like finishing a dissertation and final projects from the comfort of your family home?

For the past three years I studied at the University of York, and it was during our Easter holidays that Boris Johnson started to announce more restrictions to manage the Coronavirus Pandemic. In fact, I got the train back to Sheffield on a Thursday and by Monday, the UK was in full lockdown. As I said goodbye to my boyfriend at York train station, I still thought “this virus” would have blown over in a few weeks, and then I’d be back in York ready for the rush of final term. Little did I know that, instead of being away from York, my friends, and my boyfriend for a few weeks, I wouldn’t see them again for another 4 months.

The train ride home was eerie, and arriving in Sheffield it was like a ghost town. I love the bustle of Sheffield city centre, but catching the number 52 bus from Fargate, Sheffield felt like a completely different place to the one I’d stayed in over Christmas.

Completing my studies in lockdown, there were lots of obstacles to overcome. I didn’t have access to the University library, or any of my tutors and I couldn’t attend revision sessions in person or meet with my dissertation supervisor.

Final term in York would have been busy and frantic, with a jam-packed schedule and full days in the library. Final term during lockdown brought its own set of stresses. There was endless time to complete deadlines but with everyone living on top of each other, it can be hard to find time alone to get your studies done. I didn’t have any way to socialise outside my studies during lockdown and with nothing to do, and no one to see, final term in York and final term in Sheffield were completely different experiences. There was no way to blow off steam at the local pub, or enjoy an occasional night out before exam season.

However, final term during lockdown definitely had positives. I may have been away from my friends and boyfriend but I got a chance instead to greater connect with my family. And after the first couple of weeks, we got into a rhythm, meaning I had plenty of time to write my 10,000 word dissertation, and complete my exams from afar. Studying with my family also meant I ate and looked after myself a lot more than I would have in York. Like many students, once I get focused on studying, other aspects of my life go out of the window. It was nice to have people looking out for me, making sure I ate well, and stayed on top of my fitness.

In retrospect, finishing my studies in Sheffield without the library and away from some of my loved ones was much better than expected. And in August, I got the chance to celebrate my graduation in style- although not exactly as I had planned it. My University celebrated the end of our studies with an online ceremony, and the History Department held their own little ceremony afterwards for us, celebrating those who won prizes and excelled in their degree.

Celebrating over Zoom was an odd experience- but it definitely caused some laughs. After the “ceremony”, me and my friend took some socially-distanced graduation pictures in front of the majestic Firth Court. It may be a University of Sheffield building, but the maintenance staff let us take lots of “graduation” pictures in the gardens- showing that even in the midst of this crisis, people still perform small acts of kindness.

Whatever your University experience this year- whether you finished your studies under lockdown, or you’re about to go into your second year- studying during a pandemic is definitely a strange experience. My advice would be to get into a routine. If you have to self-isolate, keep yourself busy and look after your health first and foremost. And if you don’t have a graduation ceremony this year, celebrate however you can with the people you love.

And remember- your University experience is still an experience, wherever you study and however you graduate!

Eleanor Jones –

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