Recently, I had a chat with some friends who are grad students. As with every informal conversation, we digressed into series of topics, one of which was our COVID experiences. Each person recounted the most ways they had been affected by the ongoing pandemic. A common response was that studying had become more difficult due to being stuck at home, low motivation, and series of distractions. Others mentioned how they finally had time to work on some ideas long brushed aside for “lack of time.” A colleague said COVID is making it difficult for her to make long-term plans. She mentioned how the pandemic had affected her side hustles making it difficult to access money for tuition and to finance other projects. While each of these people have different pandemic experiences, the central theme is that each one had a story. I think the duration of the pandemic makes it near impossible for anyone not to have a story. Back when COVID came to town, most folks thought it was going to be for a few weeks/months and then life would return to normal. Therefore, there was not much fuss about how the pandemic might likely affect our lives down the road at the early days. It has now been over a year since life stopped being normal and a lot has happened.
At the time of this write up, some provinces (e.g., Newfoundland) are still at alert level five. Businesses are having to adapt and the new alert level means that those businesses considered as non-essential have gone back into lockdown. The longer the pandemic lingers, the more it shapes our lives differently and affects people’s sources of livelihood. Some students whose part time jobs fall within the “non-essential” category have been laid off. While some students could access the Government palliative measures, it has been a nightmare for international students who are exempted from these measures e.g., the Canada Emergency Student Benefit.
To be honest though, it has not been all doom and gloom. For instance, last month, I listened to two colleagues with disability who are on the MBA and PhD programs as they shared their stories. These colleagues mentioned how the pandemic made it easier for them to be more productive due to their ability to work at their own pace without the pressure of always asking for accommodations. According to one of them, remote learning means they no longer needed to deal with mobility and campus accessibility issue. Also, there is more flexibility in learning style and submission deadlines.
Studying and school stuffs generally can be a bit overwhelming especially when doing it in the same environment each day of the week. As a form of reprieve from the stress or maybe simply hobby, some students are trying their hands on different crafts. A friend of mine ordered some acrylic paints, paintbrushes, and canvas. She started learning how to paint and to create art works. I do not have many colleagues with kids in my circle but one of the few I have told me how she is using this period to teach her daughter how to bake and about financial literacy. I got to see some of the items the little girl has made, and it was really fascinating.
For fear of being mostly focused on other people’s lives, I will include my own experience. As with most people, it was easier for me at the initial stage. I would get ready in the morning and follow my usual pre-COVID academic routine. Moreover, I had a comprehensive exam to write (please see my article on that) so I was not too bothered. It was not until about three to four months later that it started to feel difficult. I picked up a few hobbies like going for long evening walks few times a week, watching TV shows and trying out some in-house fitness techniques. I use my weekends mostly to video call my family and a few of my friends. The other day, a friend taught me how to make poached egg and avocado meal via FaceTime. It might not seem much, but these things are really helping me this period. I think it helps more than ever before to maintain some form of human interface this period for mental health reason especially.
Essentially, the point is that COVID has affected each one of us but in different ways. However, we are never alone in our experiences. The great Maya Angelou once said, “I go forth alone and stand as ten thousand.” While everyone’s experience during this period may not be the same, a common denominator is that we are Black grad students living through a pandemic. Until ‘normal’ returns at some indeterminate point, we all must live and learn through this period. Until that day arrives (hopefully soon), we can all use some refreshing stories about our individual pandemic experiences and how we are navigating them. Please kindly share you experience with us.