This year has been challenging for everyone, including our graduate students. What were some of the challenges faced by our graduate students during the COVID pandemic? What kind of mental health, physical, or logistic trials did they experience? Conversely, what were some of their positive, humorous, or encouraging experiences? In this series of blog posts, we would like to share their stories with you.

Ramona Charbel, M.A. Student

COVID-19: The Multifaceted Pandemic

Undoubtedly, most of us can attest to the fact that life has looked a little different this last year, and I’m certain that almost all of us can remember the exact moment when the wind of our lives began to shift, all thanks to a global pandemic. Much like a game of cat and mouse, this new virus slowly and tauntingly inched towards us, and in a blink of an eye, we were quickly uprooted from our normal routines and thrust into a new world of uncertainties. As worrisome and confusing as it was, it was also unifying. No matter who and where you were around the world, we all had a common enemy we wanted to conquer – COVID-19. No matter what stage in your life you were in at the time, you were suddenly faced with new obstacles that you were most definitely not anticipating, despite the many, many back-up plans you had.

When COVD-19 locked us down for the first time, I was just shy of completing my undergraduate degree – it was a blessing and a curse. School was now completely online, workplaces were closed, and I no longer had to spend 45-minutes on a bus so packed you were close enough to people you could hear their thoughts. For a while, I was given the gift of extra time, but I was also cursed with watching all the friends I made in the last 4 years move to another city without a proper goodbye.

For the rest of 2020, we clung to the hope that maybe sometime soon, life would go back to what it once was, but alas, while we waited, we needed to adjust to this new normal. The school year rolled around once more, and I started my new journey as a first year Master student. Classes were once again online, as were orientations and meetings with professors and students, which were now strictly restricted to Zoom calls. I was now faced with new challenges and feeling many different emotions.

There were times when I, someone who loves social interaction, felt very lonely. How do I make friends with people I’ve never even met in person? How do I exchange comforting “Are you also kind of scared and confused?” glances with my peers when I can no longer see their faces? Long gone were the days when I could go to campus with food and coffee for an in-person study group or a in-person lab meeting.

Inconveniences like power outages, malfunctioning internet connections, and loud construction near my apartment were no longer easy to escape with a trip to campus. My place of rest doubled as my home office, and even my glasses could no longer bring focus to the now blurred line of work-life balance. I was working and studying in the same place I slept, read, and sought solace, and it was getting much harder to stay motivated and easier to get distracted. I was far more likely to gravitate towards the books on my bookshelf for some leisure reading or towards the TV for some Netflix-watching than I was to my assignments and to-do list.

Sometimes, when left in the dark, we must find a way to create our own light. All these changes and disruptions may have been frustrating, but they also made us work that much harder to connect with our peers (both metaphorically and online) and we were able to bond over the mutual upheaval of our lives. My desk may still be in my room, but it is now decorated to look like a place I want to sit at and do some work. I have tried to establish a more stable routine (i.e., I grab a coffee in the morning, sit at my desk, and get some work done with breaks in between). And while I still have many moments where I struggle to remain motivated, I am doing the best that I can. We all are! And that’s truly what counts.