By Sally Cunningham, Maple League Student Fellow, Bishop’s University
Rapidly advancing technology is terrifying and incredible. On one hand, it means we don’t have to ever leave home to be together. Online school, face-to-face video calls to see my cat, and group calls with friends make for immediate connections which are a blessing in these isolating times. It’s not the same as sitting in a room full of people; it offers a new kind of communication. Pyjamas can be work clothes, you can claim bad connection and skip a meeting, do everything you normally would from within six feet of the fridge! It’s freeing to be locked at home, but we’re social creatures at heart and I know as soon as I am allowed back to school, I will go at a run.
I am eleven days into government-mandated quarantine after flying back from studying abroad and I need a hug. It should be paradise: I have my own room, meals delivered to my door, one hour of outside time on sunny days in the backyard, Netflix available at all hours, a window with a view of the neighbour’s house… sounds like living the dream. It comes at a cost. The last time I had human contact was a pat-down at the Hamburg airport. That alone is debilitating, let alone that I packed up my life in two days and moved back into my family. Now, I am expected to continue to write essays, hand in assignments, exercise, practice elevated levels of self-care, and just exist at the same frequency as before the world erupted into masks and chaos.
I never wanted to go to school near home in the first place. I strongly believe that branching out as far as you can go is healthy. You can decide who you are and if you want to be different than you always have been, and I have seen incredible personal growth since moving to Quebec and choosing Bishop’s. Now back home, I can say wholeheartedly that was the best decision possible. I can think of nowhere less productive than my childhood bedroom: complete with a lofted pink princess bed and a call for dinner at 6 pm every night. Even if I was allowed out, I know that sitting on the couch here would in no way be an inspiration to write responses to the social inequity in Great Expectations. There are no other bright young minds here, no one I can ask “what’s it called when you have a bias in your essay?” and get an immediate response. I love my parents, but they are not the team I need right now; they have their own callings, their own expectations and it’s okay that they aren’t who I need most right now. What I need to be a student is a university.
Everywhere I look online there is another post telling me not to worry, de-stress and make small goals, take time for self-care, don’t try to function as you normally do because everything is upside-down now. That carefree mentality is one that I easily slip into at home anyways, as it is a summer place, a summer mindset: just watch Netflix and eat another cookie, stay home. Everything is telling me to relax.
Everything except my deadlines. Four 2500+ word essays are due back to back with no payoff. I can’t go to the library to work in a studious environment. I can’t go to my professor’s office hours to ask if I’m on the right track. I can’t even celebrate with friends after I’ve finished. Some people might enjoy the social distance of solitary rumination, hours alone picking apart the social critique present in Anne Brontë’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall. That’s fantastic, go them! I want help. Motivation. Competition. Inspiration. Collaboration. Laughter along the way. We crave connection, and it makes us better.
So, no, I’m not worried about the increase in online classes after this is over. Fear cannot keep us apart forever. Even at an educational level, the social aspect of university is an incredible educator and institutions know that. Everything about the university hierarchy is built to have university as the focus, and the mindset of “school is everything” sees the best results in a bubble where it is possible to prioritize school above all else. Your friends are in school, your pastimes take place on campus, the gym has school colours plastered everywhere. Going from that intensity to a childhood home hundreds of kilometres away, it’s hard to feel motivated to complete schoolwork when you are the only one around.
Day 11 of quarantine and already I dream of meeting friends in the hall before class, of glaring at the person in the third row squeaking their chair, of judging everyone’s handwriting on the sign-in sheet. I want to slide an essay under my professor’s door again, climb six flights of stairs in a parka again, feel the buzzing in the air before an exam again. These may be nerdy dreams, but I don’t think I’m alone.
I know that the Maple League prides itself on its dedication to the undergraduate experience. We care about people. Collaboration, conversation, experimentation. The future is uncertain but after this we will want to come together again. People inspire people and we will be better than before. Brighter than we were. Inspired and ready to move forward together.
Sally Cunningham is the Maple League Student Fellow, Research, and will commence her fourth year of studies in Honours English Literature at Bishop’s University this Fall. She is working on a series of virtual study hall sessions for her fellow students in the upcoming Spring and Summer terms. These will be open to those who want to study together, apart.