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‘Be kind to yourself, it’s still a global pandemic.’

Welcome back to University! Except by university, it’s actually a Teams meeting, and when I say welcome, I mean it probably would have been better if you’d stayed at home. 

Welcome to this new form of teaching whereby we will continue as though there has been no change at all and hope you all catch on sooner or later. In the meantime, don’t get stressed and try to complete all your course readings for next week, but I hope you remembered to book a library slot three weeks ago!

Week five is upon us, and with it, another week of the threat of impending second-peak lockdown mounting. I’m sure I’m not the only one with three simple queries living in my head rent free: what the hell is going on? What is going to happen next? And How can I possibly think about deadlines right now? Let me begin, with a simple claim that this is not a condemnation of the University, but purely a plea for the acknowledgement that this semester will not be the same, and our approach to productivity needs to catch on to this. 

This year we’ve endured the most intense period of self-reflection we’ll likely ever experience. Although it seems like decades ago now, we trudged through the end of coursework and, for some of us in bitter outrage, completed the overbearing task of online exams. All while still in mourning for the loss of our time at uni, or last chance at uni.  Through the stress, I noticed a general consensus amongst all my friends and family; ‘be kind to yourself, we’re in a global pandemic’. What they meant by this was really that the work submitted now doesn’t need to be of the same standard as in the ‘normal’ university environment. Post-exams, I found myself applying this mentality in coping with the lockdown lifestyle. While, I’m sure everyone’s standard of productivity plummeted in the months of staying home, it became, rather, about seeking the small wins to regain some level of self-satisfaction. This could have been going a whole day without coffee or mid-afternoon cocktails. One day even managing to get out of bed before 12pm, even if this early rise was swiftly countered by using the extra hours to finish an entire 10-part Netflix documentary. This deemed as vital so as not be left behind the rest of the world as it is turned into countless memes. Well, if I hadn’t, what would I have had to contribute the next day at the virtual watercooler of memes? 

In the absence of routine, the gym and exercise, was, somewhat inadequately, fulfilled by Chloe Ting’s two-week-shred YouTube videos. A torturous swings and roundabouts between wanting to keep fit and healthy, shortly followed by the tempting mindset that we wouldn’t have to see anyone for months anyway. This sometimes manifesting as the precarious balance between the two when 16-minutes of Chloe’s mind-numbing ab regime is countered by the national saviour complex and sudden need to order a family banquet from the suffering local takeaway. If in January, someone had told me I’d spend May checking Deliveroo as often as I do Instagram to see if Nando’s had returned, I would have perhaps discarded the New Year’s resolution to be healthier there and then. Although with St Andrews’ Nandos seemingly as the only restaurant in the country remaining stubbornly closed during freshers, perhaps there is still hope.

With the ever-updating set of rules, we experienced change arriving in 3-week-blocks, each arriving with a hope of more freedom, yet often what came was a stranger adjustment to face. I anticipated the return to student life in St Andrews as though with it would come the normality the months of lockdown were spent craving. I think we can all be assured that this year’s freshers has been one to remember for its sheer abnormality. Of course, the fresher’s staples were missed: Starfields, beach bonfires; convincing your American friends that the unknown 601 celebrity appearing is an icon of your British upbringing worth attending. Although for myself, the most noticeable absence in the return to university was the sense of daily routine. And with this came the pressing guilt of lack of productivity, I hadn’t missed over the previous months. Moving into junior honours the hours have halved, and now those few hours of class time are still spent from your own bedroom. There is no library to camp out in, and even though the cafés are open once more, reading in the back of Pret doesn’t have the same appeal when the mask still fails to find balance on the bridge of your nose without shielding half your eyeline. Yet, in the eyes of the university it seems we are to continue as though this is simply the new normal. After years of the adamant belief that a recorded lecture wouldn’t suffice, we’re now surrendered to ‘Panopto’ and Teams with little acknowledgement for the adjustment period this requires. 

 I’m not here to point blame at the university, I would simply like to repose ‘be kind to yourself; we are still in the same global pandemic.’ Despite efforts to enforce return to normal teaching, this is not the new normal. It’s a temporary solution we have to deal with and there is no shame in thriving or failing in this new learning environment. Let this public service announcement remind you that just because you are being expected to work the same, does not mean you can, or in fact that you should be able to. In the tired search for any positive outcomes of the pandemic, I pose that one should be continuing to excuse spending the day doing absolutely nothing with extreme unproductivity as a form of self-care and preservation of mental health. There is always some form of global pandemic mounting circumstances that make life more difficult and, in my opinion, it can be best sometimes to bow down to these issues and accept that today is simply not going to happen; be kind to yourself instead. So, the next time Netflix has the audacity to ask if you’re still watching and would like to proceed with the next episode of ‘come dine with me’, confront that guilt and continue with pride. Be kind to yourself, this global pandemic isn’t going anywhere, but that does not been you should work and study as though it has. 

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