By Faye Rozario and Alex Trachsell, Staff Writers

Photo source: TPAN

With exams having just ended, most of us are probably excited to enjoy some time off. Excited to indulge in neglected hobbies, living in the moment. Actually, who am I kidding? The way of the student is to keep our sights on the horizon and that means that plans for the fall term are at the forefront of our minds.

The thought of the fall term is likely accompanied by the thought of in-person classes, given the university’s tentative plans to return to the old ways by then, and that is certainly a welcome thought. Logistically, online schooling has its advantages, but certain elements of in-person schooling will be a welcome return to the norm. I want to see other people again, have side conversations in meetings with them, casually bump into them and have a chat without having to ask which platform we’d prefer to use. As second years, many of the relationships we made in our first year have likely been put under strain by online schooling. Without bumping into people in the hallway or eating together in Strachan Hall, the shared interests or senses of humor that help budding friendships which make people friends can be drowned out by dry meetings and infrequent messages. In-person schooling can bring the former back and revitalize these strained friendships.

That said, I’m sure just about everyone is aware of the difficulties of online learning, from academics to mental health. However, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t taught us lessons that could be used to enhance our coming years.

The importance of independence cannot be understated. In a year where isolation has forced people away from their regular communities and relationships, the prospect of being alone at first felt at first like a daunting and damning sentence. From time to time, online schooling lived up to this expectation — friendships were strained, communications with professors and teaching assistants were uncoordinated, my individual routine faded into listless monotony. Yet, despite this, there were a great many occasions where being on my own meant something good, something beautiful. 

Any friend loss or misunderstanding endured brought an opportunity for me to strengthen my relationship with myself. I found that even though I had been in this life for 19 years, I had a minimal understanding of the person I am. What is it that motivates me, that makes me dream? When can I take a moment to sit with myself and be aware of my own anxieties, the things that worry me and their real—rather than hyperbolized—implications? Why did it take a global pandemic for me to realize I may be my own best company? 

Throughout this strange year, there has been ample time to capitalize on these tiny epiphanies and make friends with myself. If my confidence wanes on a whim, I do a face mask. I might wear my favourite perfume. If a particular aspect of my academic performance does not live up to my expectations, I remind myself that a minor setback in one area of my life does not devalue my progress and value in all the others. There is a guitar in the corner of the room, a pen and notebook in my bedside drawer — things that ground me, that reestablish the existence of talents and hobbies of mine, separate from my career aspirations. If I find myself procrastinating, I gain the motivation to move forward not from a teaching assistant’s guidance or a classmate’s reminder, but rather from my own desire to improve. 

Gaining this newfound appreciation for independence has worked reciprocally to reinforce my relationships with others as well. Though this effect may not seem apparent, self-love and growth enrich one’s connections with the people around them in a way that is subtle yet profound. When you are able to look within yourself for the things that make you tick, your own quirks and intricacies, that awareness extend outward. Maybe it will help you realize the type of people you want in your life, drawing new relationships to you. Perhaps it will allow you to empathize with others better and have more patience with your parents or siblings. Most excitingly, a renewed sense of self-understanding could foster an entirely different direction for your path moving forward.

Photo source: iStock

Many of us are highly aware of how important our decisions in university can be in our careers. As such, I have often found myself second-guessing myself, asking if this or that is what I really want out of university, my career, or life as a whole. And while those questions will never be fully answered and should always be something we ask ourselves, a better understanding of oneself can increase confidence in those big decisions.

Furthermore, a better understanding of our weaknesses can help us determine when we may have made a “wrong” decision. If I’m not enjoying a certain course or extracurricular, my instinct is to tell myself that it’s just not for me. However, online learning has taught me that I tend to get overwhelmed when I’m given a project to do with little explanation. Caught up in those feelings, I conclude that there’s no way I can be interested in international politics or filmmaking. Now that I’m aware of this tendency to get overwhelmed, I remind myself that I do in fact like these topics and that all I need to do is find time to get some further explanation.

Overall, online learning created a petri dish for introspection. And even if you didn’t spend every night meditating on what you’ve learned about yourself, the experience will always be there for you to reflect on. 

As second years, we have a chance to return to normalcy with a fresh pair of eyes. We’re in a unique position where we already know what in-person university is like and what makes it special. This year we’ve learned about ourselves and what makes us special. Now, we still have two more full years to put that knowledge together and let it guide us the rest of the way. 

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