No one needs to be told that 2020 is a year unlike any other in history. We all know it, and not just because it’s been repeated over and over again in every single commercial since April. We know it because we remember the old normal; we remember the way things used to be before the world ended.
For many, it has been an exceedingly difficult adjustment to this new normal. This especially rings true in education, where people have had to go from walking around campus and attending classes to sitting in the same chair, at the same desk, all day, every day. That’s quite the downgrade in terms of learning method and just general quality of life, so it is no surprise that people hate it.
Me, though? I have never known another way. All first-year students are aware that we’re missing out on many great experiences, but we have never lived through them, only to have them taken away. In our brief experience, university is online, and we have had to deal with that from the beginning.
The first test of this online environment came during Orientation Week, an event where 20% of students got to meet people and integrate into their new environment by participating in plenty of activities throughout the week, and the other 80% got to feel cool for not doing so.
I was skeptical about online university as a whole going into it, but OWeek did a lot to reassure me in regards to how engaging online content and activities could be. I cannot stress enough how much I appreciated Orientation Week and those who had a hand in organizing it, but I could never shake that nagging feeling of missing out.
No matter how much effort was put into organizing the week online, there was never going to be real purpling. We didn’t get a real hard hat. I don’t know how important either of those things truly are in an engineering student’s experience, but missing out nonetheless contributes to the feeling that we are just not getting the full experience.
This fear of missing out on crucial experiences is what inspired me to move to campus for my first term. Living in residence (UWP) has been a big change (I had spaghetti three times in four days last week), but I do not regret it at all. Meeting people in person has been great, and though I have not had the chance to meet my whole cohort as I would have liked to, it has been invaluable to see people face-to-face.
This is of course not an option for everyone, and that is where Discord comes in. The program server has been both a great resource for people in their classes, and a source of much-needed interaction. With everyone so busy, it is great to be able to relax and talk to people going through all the same things, dealing with all the same classes, and freaking out about all the same assignments and quizzes.
That is one aspect of Waterloo Engineering that COVID-19 cannot take away: the camaraderie that is unique to this faculty, thanks to the cohort system. It is difficult to stomach the feeling of missing out on traditions and experiences because of circumstances out of our control, but it is made more palatable by the fact that we get to share this strange, once-in-a-lifetime moment.
Someday, hopefully soon, the pandemic will have run its course – and when we all arrive on campus for that first real day of classes, it will be even sweeter because we will remember the old normal. Just like this situation is made more difficult for those who got to know another way, the release from this state of uncertainty will be even more gratifying for us and all still at the university at that point. Until then, we’ll have to keep finding solutions to stay connected while distant and to create our own experiences while missing out on others. We will find ways to solve or mitigate these difficulties despite the challenges, because that’s what engineers do.