What Being a (Zoom) University Student in 2020 Has Taught Me

Let’s be completely honest with ourselves. 2020 has been one wild ride.

I can still remember those days vividly. That one Friday night when I found out that my final year lab project has been suspended. That one Saturday morning when I found myself staring at the empty shelves at the supermarkets, dumbfounded by the whole toilet paper panic-buying fiasco. And finally, that one Sunday morning, where little did I expect myself to be buying a flight ticket four hours before the plane took off (well I have my fair share of last-minute stories, but none of them at this level). And just like that, ever since that day, I’ve been studying and attending classes remotely from my home country, Malaysia, over the past nine months.

It has definitely not been an easy transition for most of us, even if you’re the type who skips lectures. In fact, I never thought there would be a day where I would actually say I miss studying in the Central Library or Sir Alexander Fleming (SAF) Building – maybe it was due to my hot chocolate addiction (whoops, thanks to the Library Café), or perhaps it was the mini highlights of any random day whenever I bumped into my friends on campus, or it could just be the whole idea of having absolute freedom of going anywhere and doing whatever I wanted to do at any point in time. Nevertheless, as much as how this year has been pretty much of a downer for everyone, I would still say that there were a few silver linings in this dark and gloomy cloud. And I would even daresay 2020 has taught me some unexpectedly positive things.

Let me share some of them with you!

2020 pushed me to be more creative with my time

Arguably, 2020 gave me a significant amount of extra time since I no longer had to commute daily to and from campus or spend ages preparing meals and giving my flat a good spring-cleaning (since I can work together with my family). As a result, I’ve been there – spending my lockdown days binge-watching Netflix, playing multiple rounds of Among Us with friends, aimlessly scrolling through my social media pages, or even just lying around and feeling restless from the monotony.

Upon realising that I simply cannot go on being like this, especially due to the uncertain length of this pandemic, it got me brainstorming on how I could use my time better. In particular, the key question that I asked myself was “now that I have a bit more free time, what was the one thing that I wished I had more time to explore, even if I am not an expert at it… yet?”.

Fast-forwarding to today, I never expected to find myself trying out writing for fun (given that academic writing has already taken up a large chunk of my life over the last 2.5 years). In 2020 alone, I ended up publishing a short book on Amazon where I aim to guide aspiring STEM students with their university personal statement writing. Besides that, I co-founded a science website with a university friend, and this gave me a platform to consistently practice my scientific communication skills. All in all, I’ve been enjoying the journey thus far!

Henceforth, this brings me to say that – I am sharing this story not because I wanted to brag about what I’ve done. Instead, I thought about emphasizing how the lockdown life could possibly be a perfect “excuse” for you to give it a go for something that you’ve always wanted to do (but never had the time to do so previously). We can never know; this could lead you to something bigger in the long run!

2020 challenged me to diversify my “information diet”

You’re probably familiar with the term “balanced diet”, in which the rule-of-thumb is that you should consume adequate portions of all types of nutrients (ranging from carbohydrates to vitamins to fat) in order to maintain a healthy body and state-of-mind.

The “information diet” follows the same principle, and I’ll use my personal experience as an example.

For the majority of my time at university, I’ve been constantly burying my nose into books and scientific journals related to biochemistry (fair enough, because I wanted to do well in my degree). The problem is – even though I become increasingly well-read about the on-goings in the world of life sciences, I know very little about other equally important topics such as personal finance, current global affairs, or even how to establish and maintain positive relationships (just to name a few)!

What’s more, given that there has been a series of unfortunate events surrounding racial discrimination and many more in 2020, I realised that my information diet is simply dreadful, and it is my own job to educate myself on all these issues.

Thus, since 2020 has given me extra time as mentioned earlier, I pushed myself to pick up leisure reading again. However, this time, I placed a greater emphasis on reading a more diverse range of topics instead of sticking to a certain group of favourites, and perhaps this might be something you could consider introducing into your own routine too.

2020 helped me to become more comfortable with uncertainty

I am a planner by nature. I usually like to have a clear structure and direction for me to work towards whenever I venture into something new. But, 2020 seems to be advocating against that.

As a result, you could say that most of my goals and plans for the year were shattered. Nonetheless, upon remembering that everyone is on the same boat, 2020 has given me an unexpected chance to live in the moment rather than overthink about the future. This, in turn, helped me to become less afraid and thus become a slightly happier person. All in all, 2020 has taught me to remain calm in the face of adversity and uncertainty, and that’s actually not a bad way to live.

Some final notes

Aside from getting to save a lot of money and somehow becoming an expert at UK-Malaysia time zone conversion, 2020 has taught me a number of lessons that I genuinely wouldn’t think a “normal” year would have given me. Hence, for me at least, this year has been both a curse as well as a blessing.

Moving forward, as no one can say for certain what might happen in the upcoming months due to the Tier 4 lockdown and the emergence of the new COVID-19 strain, I hope that this article could somewhat help one of you feel a little more hopeful and optimistic about the current situation.

In the meantime, do take it easy on yourself. We’ll all get through this eventually, some way or another.

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