Faye Rozario, Staff Writer
It’s my laptop and I against the world. We sit together for hours on end, locked in a strange embrace of survival. It spits out remnants of the school life I once knew — recorded lectures, live tutorials ravaged by poor Internet connections, and a never ending stream of emails that urge me to stream, study, submit. At the end of the night, for all its good work, I feed my loyal device a charging cable.
The days pass in blurred monotony so quickly that it seems like time is eating itself. Has it really already been a year since I started university? I think about my freshman self, all excited fascination and barely contained nerves. I was the quintessential commuting student; I made my schedule with a two hour window for travel, caught up on sleep on bus rides, and guarded my Presto Card with my life. Five minutes before the end of my last class of the day, I would pack my bag so that I could leave as soon as possible and run to the subway for the earliest train home. I poured over readings on crowded buses, brushing elbows with strangers as I tried to drown out their conversations and focus. I felt so mundane, so irrelevant, just another nobody filtering in and out of the city each day without ever leaving a mark.
Dorm life, in comparison, seemed like some kind of 24/7 adventure-filled utopia. I wondered about all the parties I would miss, the campus meet-up spots I would never discover, the late night library sessions downtown I would have to live without. Living on residence was a shiny toy displayed in a storefront window, and I was the kid with my hands pressed to the glass. On the outside looking in.
Looking back now, I’m afraid that I let my first year pass me by while I coveted all the things that I didn’t have instead of appreciating those that I did. I’m jealous of that girl I was, who used to waste a day in Robarts with an iced-coffee, saying I’d get some work done but barely getting through any of my readings. I miss sitting in the cafeteria at Sid Smith with a friend before a tutorial, discussing an upcoming essay. What I would give for another chance to laugh and whisper and worry and cry and live on the walks in between buildings, being pulled along with friends as we headed to our next class. I want to look across the room in a crowded lecture hall and see someone I’ve never seen before. I want to wonder if they see me too.
I want to be a student again.
The Offline Student
Without the rigid structures of lecture halls and classrooms to carry my university life, that part of my identity has been left hanging in the wind. I feel as though I’m suspended in limbo, isolated inside the vacuum of virtual education, held afloat in this endless space by a thousand strings of responsibility yet somehow completely detached. An unsettling lack of drive creeps into my mind, setting my academic motivation aflame. If this student burnout is a wildfire —fast and all consuming—then school itself is the heavy grey smoke hanging above the blaze—immaterial and shapeless. There and not there all at once.
I could just close my laptop and my connection to the University of Toronto would cease to exist. I wouldn’t need to play along with the readings and the due dates and the typed conversations. What are those impending deadlines but mere digital dropboxes floating on my screen? Is that recorded lecture not just a scripted monologue addressed to an empty room? Are my tutorials and seminars anything more than all of us desperate creatures pretending that we might be able to replicate the genuinity of a real social interaction? Who is there to hold me accountable?
The absence of conventional student life has taken my understanding of what it is to be a full-time student and blurred it around the edges. It feels like a stressful daydream I invented in my head to keep myself busy. I process the situation in continuous circles: no campus, no classmates, no lecture halls, no school, no campus, no classmates, no lecture halls, no school, no campus, no classmates, no lecture halls, no school. No school. Just an internet imitation of the real thing.
Full Screen: The Bigger Picture
As easy as it is to forget, this experience is not unique to me. According to the International Association of Universities, over a billion students across the world are being impacted by school closures as a result of the pandemic. That’s billions of young people—dorm students and commuters alike—navigating completely unprecedented times. Without the usual support of in-person interaction, this major adjustment is taking a toll on all aspects of student well-being, especially academic motivation. A study done by the University of Colorado shows that more than 47% of the students surveyed are experiencing changes in their motivation due to the lack of structure in their academic life. It’s no surprise that we’re struggling — it’s understandably difficult to focus on an essay when the world is falling apart.
Your world, however, isn’t made and broken on the outcome of this semester. Your teaching assistants are going to put out a few emails, the Canvas app will send you some notifications, your parents will be waiting to see how you’ve done in your classes so far. But to that hopeful youth who chose this degree, who has dreams of pursuing a specific career or field, who knows that challenges now will lead to successes later: the person you need to be most responsible to is yourself. And that person, as far fetched as it may seem, is not alone.
It’s my laptop and I against the world, and you and yours, and a billion others along with us.