Managing my expectations going into this fall semester

How I’m planning to make the most of a strange academic year

Shelby is preparing herself for a different school year than the one she was expecting.
Shelby Talbot
If you had asked me a year ago what I thought my third year at university was going to look like, I can promise you I wouldn’t have said “learning in the midst of a global pandemic.”
Like many students at Queen’s and around the world, I’m looking down the barrel at a fall semester unlike anything I could have predicted this time last year. With at least one full semester of online classes and the shuttering of a significant amount of the university’s student initiatives and extra-curriculars, it’s not hard to feel discouraged going into the 2020-21 school year. 
In my mind, my third year was going to be the year I made the most of immersing myself in the Queen’s community. My first year at Queen’s was devoted to making friends and figuring out how to succeed in university academics; my second year was spent learning how to cook for myself, maintain a budget, and overall figure out how to function as an independent adult. And as unrealistic as it may be, I had this pristine mental image of third year as the year I had everything figured out. 
Of course, that seems impossible now.
Remote learning isn’t a foreign concept to many students, but I think it’s fair to say none of us have ever lived through circumstances quite like these before. 
It’s frustrating to feel like I have to relearn how to be a student in the second half of my undergrad. The note-taking skills and techniques to stay focused in lectures I developed in my first two years of university life don’t seem quite as useful right now, and my early morning routine to walk to my 8:30 a.m. lectures isn’t going to be necessary anytime soon.
In March, I had a difficult time adjusting to the sudden transition to online classes, and I know I wasn’t the only one. The switch from in-person lectures to uploaded notes and modules was a little jarring, and without the rigid structure of a weekly class schedule I started to struggle with keeping up with course content. 
Add in the extra layer of anxiety and stress caused by the rapid community spread of COVID-19, and the end of this year’s winter semester was not the most conducive environment for academic success. 
This past spring, I was concerned about how I would find success in online learning, and it only added to the struggles I was having making adjustments. I’m doing my best not to carry those same worries into the upcoming school year. 
As far as the impact of coronavirus goes, I’m very fortunate to be in a position where some of my biggest worries are lost opportunities and virtual lectures. Missing out on this year’s intramurals is nothing compared to the obstacles some of my peers will be navigating. Doing my coursework from inside my bedroom is a small price to pay to keep from exacerbating public health issues. 
I don’t think that has to mean that students in circumstances like mine should beat themselves up for feeling a sense of loss for the year we thought we were going to have—but we should try not to wallow in it either. 
I’m not exactly an optimistic person, so as university emails and coronavirus faculty updates rolled in these past few months, I found it easy and a little bit cathartic to get wrapped up in that feeling of disappointment myself and a lot of other students were growing accustomed to.
These past few weeks leading up to the start of classes, I’ve been working hard to remind myself that just because my third year isn’t going to be quite how I imagined it would be, I can still make the most of it, as cheesy as that sounds. 
This summer has been a good opportunity to figure out how to keep in touch with people outside of hanging out face-to-face, so I have lots of ideas for virtual meetups with my friends who won’t be returning to Kingston for the fall semester. 
In terms of extracurriculars, I have been reminding myself that there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with clubs that are operating online this fall, and several great student initiatives are still working to keep the Queen’s community atmosphere alive through a remote learning semester. 
Academically, I’m going to try to take what didn’t work for me this spring and use that to tackle the biggest struggles I have with learning online—namely, actually motivating myself to do the work. 
This year is definitely not going to be the ideal third year I imagined for myself, but there’s no way my year was going to go perfectly, even if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, so it’s time I let that idealistic vision of being a flawless university student go. 
Last year I ate a CoGro bagel for five meals a week—I still have lots of room to improve.
Instead of worrying about what I might be missing out on, I’m trying to reframe my expectations for this year so they better fit the current reality we’re all living in. 
Number one: eat fewer bagels. Number two: try to get a better handle on online classes. Number three: cut myself some slack, because we’re living in a stressful and taxing time.
Above everything else, I need to keep in mind that whatever this fall semester pans out to be, a strange and uncomfortable term of remote learning is well worth it to reduce the impact of COVID-19 in the Kingston community and beyond. 
I look forward to returning to normal university life when it’s safe to do so. Until then, I’m going to try my best to stay on top of my virtual courses, keep in touch with friends, and enjoy my third year, as strange and unexpected as it may be.

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