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An unexpected rollercoaster: a year in the life at Torrens - Meng Lim

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.

I remember starting the year with this quote running through my head; hopeful Victorians were only just coming out of their draconian 2020 lockdown, and I was anxious that the tentative restrictions would continue to impact my studies. Never would I have expected to start my final year of university not knowing whether I would be able to go to campus, meet with lecturers and enjoy my last subjects in person.

Fast forward ten months and the pandemic has well and truly reshaped the way I continue to think about and engage in all aspects of my life, including work, socialising and of course, participating in school. Unlucky Melbournians continued to spend the past year being tossed in and out of lockdowns, and as a student I suffered from constant whiplash just trying to keep up with the simple fact of whether or not I was allowed to go to campus to study. Despite these challenges, teaching champions were there every step of the way to help me make sense of my studies with online lectures, extra learning resources and virtual consultations.

I wasn’t in it alone though – it didn’t take long for me to realise just how much my fellow students were also struggling with the continuing changes, and how the pandemic was affecting our community as a whole. Whether it was during online lectures or by reading posts in the discussion forums, it was clear that we were all adjusting to the transitions in our own ways, and experiencing individual challenges.

A particularly significant impact was the way in which these restrictions affected our ability to study together; meeting up on campus for study sessions and team meetings were replaced by WhatsApp group chats and awkward video calls. In some ways, I felt lucky that despite the challenges of COVID-19, we had more tools than ever before to stay connected and work together. I quickly became a Zoom master, complete with customised backgrounds and the occasional feline distraction, should my cat decide to invade the screen.

Spending so much time tied to my computer made time feel even more non-existent and fluid; without the interruptions of commuting, the mornings bled into the afternoons, bled into the evenings. I was married to my laptop like never before and it was too easy to get sucked into the black hole of constant study, constant work, or even constant Netflix.

Working on group projects also continued to be a challenge; in the best of times, meeting new people and working in teams makes me nervous, but having to present myself virtually was a whole different ballgame that I had to learn to navigate. Even after two years of adapting, I know being comfortable and confident with these changes will continue to be a personal milestone.

In the rush to get back to normal, use this time to decide which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.

As I look back on the year, a different quote is now guiding the way I reflect on things. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was so protective of my old routines and habits, and so anxious to return to these familiar comforts at the earliest opportunity. Two years later, I’m now learning to re-evaluate what is important to me, and most importantly what is good for me and my wellbeing. I realised that while I enjoyed going to campus and working with my peers in person, some of these old normal routines weren’t really being missed. While it took some time to get used to the changes, I started to see that I didn’t really want to return to some of those habits.

Even though the love will always be there, I know I have to break up with my laptop, at least a little bit. After realising how easy it was to fall into a never-ending cycle, I knew that wasn’t a life I wanted to go back to. Having the freedoms that I usually take for granted removed made me cherish even more those walks around the park, coffee runs during lunch or trips to the supermarket. Spending time away from my computer helped to establish better boundaries for myself and using these breaks in meaningful ways is one way in which I want to focus on my own self-care.

Taking advantage of the flexibility of online learning has allowed me to take the time I need to work and learn at my own pace, and to prioritise following my own routines. Knowing that the support is available even when I can’t go to campus has reminded me that the Torrens community is always there; we’re not defined by our campus, physical location or borders. As the year comes to an end, I have learned that I don’t need to be tied to old habits; I can move forward from this pandemic not only having survived, but also learning to thrive.

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