May 12, 2020

UCalgary COVID-19 diaries: At home with four students feeling the impact of the pandemic

'I never thought I’d miss seeing lineups — like at Tim’s and Bake Chef — or that I’d miss seeing people studying at TFDL or just going about their day'

We are living in an “emergent moment” — a time when new rules are being constructed as the future remains fuzzy. As many of us shelter in place, people are trying to capture the moment by sketching, journalling, doodling — some medium that will give shape and form to these unfocused times.

There’s no doubt “these times are certainly stressful,” says Dr. Susan Barker, PhD, vice-provost (student experience). “I think the biggest general issue is uncertainty which creates a lot of anxiety about the future and a feeling of a lack of control over one’s life. Imagine . . . we have a few students who are unable to return to their homes internationally. This is incredibly stressful, not just for the students but also their families who don’t know when they will see each other again. We also have many students whose summer jobs, internships, co-op and practicum placements have been cancelled and this reduces income and slows down degree progression. The impact of a student’s financial status is probably one of the biggest stressors for Canadian students.” 

What, exactly, are University of Calgary students doing these days? With some 542 students still living in UCalgary’s residence halls, and tens of thousands of others at home (here and abroad) — what does their world, on pause, look like?

We caught up with four students who gave us snapshots, or diary entries if you will, into what they’re experiencing right now. In this moment.

UCalgary's Shaun Ali, BSc’04 (physics and math), BSc’07 (geophysics), currently a master’s student with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscaping (SAPL)

More time for children and doing something creative

Shaun Ali, BSc’04 (physics and math), BSc’07 (geophysics), currently a master’s student with the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape:

I have learned that I am a bit more of a homebody than I thought, and that disconnecting from social media is awesome and that more people should do it.

But let me think back to pre-COVID days. I was at home listening to the news when I first heard that the U of C had cancelled classes (and switched to remote learning). Given how things had been going, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I guess I was just more curious how I would manage school while the rest of my family was at home. My oldest child is four, my youngest is seven months, but my wife is on mat leave, so that has made it easier for me to hide in our house with my laptop when I have to connect to an online lecture.

There’s no question that the biggest challenge has been balancing school with our kids, but spending all this time with them has also been a gift.

The kids get top priority. Period. But, the moment they're in bed, then school gets the focus and so I’ve learned to use my time very efficiently.

And we’ve had to set up more rules, like limiting TV time. My daughter will be starting kindergarten in the fall, so we're teaching her to read, how to count, tell time, tie shoes, as well as life skills like cooking and chores and looking after her younger brother. My wife and I also have rules for ourselves and we pick a day (sometimes two!) where we disengage from anything digital and do something creative — like cooking and woodworking. With more time and fewer distractions, I’ve also learned new skills — from taking on a variety of home appliance-maintenance projects to baking bread, producing videos for social media, makeup and application (this one has been hilarious), and a few others.

As for our future, I am not scared, per se. COVID has shown that our current economic structure is severely flawed and in those flaws lie opportunity. I guess I'm not scared, but anxious. I see the opportunity, but I'm unsure how to seize it.

Pratibha Gupta, a second-year undergrad student in the Faculty of Science and Werklund School of Education

Surprised by missing the little things

Pratibha Gupta, second-year undergrad student in the Faculty of Science and Werklund School of Education:

I grew up in Kenya and so, of course, I thought about returning to my family when so many other students in residence started moving out. I guess I chose to stay because I knew that it would be safer than to travel during the pandemic, especially as all flights going home would be via Europe. Plus, I had already registered for spring classes and had planned to stay until the end of June — so I decided to stick to my original plan.

I am still living in Cascade Hall with my two roommates, so our space hasn’t changed much. But the first-year students who had communal bathrooms were moved to units with private bathrooms to help with physical distancing. And none of us can have visitors anymore.

But everything else certainly changed.

Being in lockdown and barely seeing anyone on campus has become the new normal.

February seems so long ago now, but, back then, a typical day would have found me going to my classes, eating at the Dining Centre, meeting up my friends at Mac Hall, and then coming back to my res floor and hanging out with my floor mates. Now, my roommate and I wake up, make our meals ourselves, finish up what work that we have and then just hang out and play video games ... it’s the same thing pretty much every day. 

It’s also weird the things you miss ... like leaving the house to run an errand or meet a friend. Now, we have to plan our trips and only leave when absolutely necessary. We don’t have a car, so we get most of our groceries delivered and we usually go for walks around campus or to the nearby park. I miss just seeing people around campus.

I never thought I’d miss seeing lineups — like at Tim’s and Bake Chef — or that I’d miss seeing people studying at TFDL [Taylor Family Digital Library] or just going about their day.

I miss being able to catch a bus and just go to the mall or take a trip downtown. It’s the little things that may have seemed insignificant before — but now, now I think that’s definitely what I miss most.

I just hope I can go home to my family this summer but, right now, we’re all just taking it one day at a time. What else can you do?

Maiya Lee, a third-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology who plays defence on the UCalgary Dinos Women’s Soccer team

Soccer league play will be missed

Maiya Lee, third-year student in the Faculty of Kinesiology who plays defence on the Dinos Women’s Soccer team:

We meet up in parking lots and sit in the trunks of cars to talk and hang out — staying two metres apart. Of course.

I know I am one of the lucky ones. I live at home with my parents and sister, and our [Dinos soccer] team still has meetings with our coach on Zoom. Since COVID closed the campus, I’ve had lots of free time to improve my individual skills and fitness levels, but from a team perspective — not being able to play games and work on group challenges is a huge drawback.  For me, the most unsettling part of the pandemic is the inability to play in the summer club leagues. Myself and a number of teammates play for the Foothills WFC team, which is part of the UWS (semipro) League. It’s an incredible opportunity playing at that level, and the experience is a massive advantage to bring back to the Dinos in the fall – so, I am sad about that.

My Dinos team still has daily strength and conditioning sessions, which are also done on Zoom with our trainer. On top of this, I also try to do skill training once a day, as well.

I would say the total amount of time spent on soccer probably hasn’t changed, but the effectiveness of that time is definitely not the same.

My biggest fear is the fall. Our preseason training usually begins the first week in August and we train extremely hard, multiple times a day, over that month to prepare. I’m not sure what plans there are right now for the fall season, but everyone is hoping for as little change as possible. Finding a summer job is also another fear. I do play on a soccer scholarship; however, I still depend on not just the money, but also the invaluable work/volunteer experience that I will need when I apply for graduate studies.

—	Jenny Lee, a second-year student in the Schulich School of Engineering at UCalgary, majoring in Chemical Engineering

Let the pandemic end so we can finally hug each other again

Jenny Lee, second-year student in the Schulich School of Engineering, majoring in chemical engineering:

I will always remember exactly where I was — in my apartment studying for a midterm — when I heard that classes were moving online. I was immediately shocked and stressed over what would happen to my actual learning and my summer research experience.

At that point, I decided to stay in Calgary and not go back to my family in South Korea, but that was before I started having some serious dental issues. I am currently taking Amoxicillin, which I had to get prescribed by meeting a dentist online. My parents are now extremely worried and want me to have the root canal done in South Korea, so I think I’ll go home. There, the virus is under control and now they barely have any new cases of COVID-19.

I also just discovered that my research job with W21C [Ward of the 21st Century] at the Foothills is going to go ahead, but online, so I think I will make my parents happy and go back to South Korea.

The beauty of research is being able to ask your supervisor and colleagues lots of questions, as well as getting hands-on engineering experience. Will that happen now? I sure hope so, despite the obvious barriers.

Since the middle of March, I’ve been spending 10 hours a day in front of a screen, so I haven’t really had time to process my feelings — other than I now get concerned about walking into a closed building, maintaining a two-metre distance from other people, even touching a doorknob. And now that I have a bit of time, despite this dental thing, I miss hugging my friends and playing card games such as Dutch Blitz, Sushi Go, Exploding Kittens and other ones that can’t be played online.

All I really want is for this pandemic to be over so we can finally meet and hug each other again.

Student Relief Fund

COVID-19 has significantly impacted students, especially those already facing higher levels of debt, food insecurity and mental health concerns. Your donation to the COVID-19 Student Relief Fund will help students most in need, allowing them to focus on their academic goals during this challenging time.