Living through a pandemic is jarring: it feels like we have all been thrown into a dystopian book setting rather than the reality we are all used to. The news we have overwhelms us with problems that are on a worldwide scale- a scale that is often too huge for us to begin comprehending, let alone coming to terms with.
In these times, however, it can be reassuring to hear about other individuals who are feel just as overwhelmed as you are. Alan Bennett, author of The History Boys, said “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met… And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
We often get this remarkable feeling when reading literature, but why not add news to the mix too? In these trying times, The Blue has tried to collate some personal insights- ranging from confusion, anger, disappointment, fear and optimism- so that our readers can gain comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone in their feelings.
Rai Saad Khan, a finalist who studies Geography at Christ Church, says, “I think more than anything it’s just very sad, because the end of trinity also means a premature end to our degree.”
“Obviously there are bigger things happening, but it’s the pathos of not having that closure of the last term, or even saying by to your friends or college properly.”
“And as an international, I just don’t know if or when I’m coming back. So it’s bizarre to be flying out with no plan for coming back. It seems like a defeat.”
He also commented on the university policy towards the pandemic, saying, “I guess we’ll just wait and see what they do with finals. I’m worried about some of the different options they could choose in terms of how to examine us, but it really depends on what they choose.”
He also voices his own hopes on what will happen as regards exams: “I hope now that the University could delay exams by a week or two, just because it has been absolute chaos for so many people (personally as an international student arranging travel back has been manic). I am quite worried about missing out on a week of revision!”
It is not just finalists, but also international students staying in college who are having an extremely difficult time amidst all this chaos. One student gives us insight into how conflicted she is feeling, explaining how her college has advised her to remain in Oxford against the advice of the Canadian government which is mandating all its citizens to return ASAP! With Trinity term set for remote learning and the Bod libraries closed indefinitely, following the advice of college and staying in Oxford is a lonely and daunting prospect.
She also explains how it is intimidating to remain within college, as students with COVID-19 symptoms (normally young and healthy) are unlikely to be tested with the NHS facing ever-growing pressures on its services.
Elena Bonacini, an Italian first year student at Christ Church, has no option but to remain in college, as she cannot return home whilst Italy is on lockdown. She has also told the Blue about her experiences, saying “They’re really trying to minimise the number of students in college but those of us who don’t have family members in the UK might have to stay here for a while, and college have been sympathetic to these exceptional circumstances.”
For the present moment, it is interesting to hear from her about what life is like in this extraordinary vac, as she explains how “The censors have decided to suspend hall on Wednesday (it was supposed to last until the end of 9th week) and we’re now having to cater for ourselves.”
“Access to the kitchen facilities in St Aldates has been provided upon our request to the Steward, but if the kitchens become unhygienic they will be closed as there are no staff to clean them.”
In terms of how clear the college and university wide policy is for the future, she says “We have not been assured we can stay here until the end of the vacation, or even next term, they have made clear that they’re making decisions on the basis of rapidly changing developments and advice. It is all very uncertain, but we appreciate the efforts that college are making to deal with the emergency.”
Cynthia Hou, also an international student who studies at Magdalen, has expressed a similar sentiment to Elena, saying, “My college has given permission for me to stay here for the vacation, but I am not sure what the arrangements will be once trinity term begins. I guess it is too early to make any decisions about that yet, in this quick-moving situation.”
She also shared her opinion on the concept of remote learning- something all of us (international or home) are going to experience soon. “Remote-teaching will take time to get used to. Personally, I think physically being in Oxford, within the social environment of college, is a huge part of what it means to be at university, but I do believe that such measures for remote teaching are necessary for the time being.”
The situation is perhaps most distressing for finalists, and she says, ” I am lucky that I don’t have exams this year, but if I did, the prospects of online, at-home, and potentially open-book exams would be quite distressing, because I don’t think they will fully reflect the work people would have put in. They may also introduce inequality depending on people’s individual situations. Also, the unfamiliarity of the format is daunting in itself. I know many that do have exams, especially finalists, would agree.”
Cynthia also addresses the most recent student development on the situation: “I have read the open letter compiled by the JCR presidents to the uni about exam arrangements, and I think the issues that have been brought up are very much valid and need to be addressed seriously and urgently. For example, I think exams that are not in the final year, and not required to proceed to the next year, could be postponed until the term after, so that the exams can (hopefully) proceed in their normal fashion as opposed to a compromised online format.”
From just four students it is clear that the concerns we share are far ranging, but that we are not alone in having them. Uncertainty is often the greatest cause of fear, and hopefully as communication from colleges, the university and our individual departments increases so will clarity on the situation. In the meantime, it seems fitting to sit tight and continue the discourse around the situation to ensure that no one has to suffer in silence.