Due to obvious reasons, being a fresher this year is definitely nothing like how it usually is. Jam packed lecture halls, pub crawls and fresher fairs have all been moved to the virtual world of Zoom, Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams. No matter how much we try to make the most out of the situation, we know it’s just not the same as meeting people in real life. Although I was excited to go to Uni and move away from home for the first time, my expectations were significantly dampened by the thought of having to sit in my room in front of a computer screen for the majority of the time. 

I moved to Aberdeen University student halls in late September. The first few days were tough because I was still trying to find my feet, break the ice with my flatmates as well as coping with the sudden reality that I had to do everything on my own without the safety net of my parents. Just as I felt as though I was finally settling in, I was harshly reminded by the reality we are living in. It was only 5 days in when I first heard that our flat had been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This was when we first had to start isolation for 14 days. Although I wasn’t thrilled with this news, I certainly wasn’t surprised. News stories of outbreaks in student halls were everywhere so I knew that I would probably have to isolate at some point. 

Initially isolation wasn’t too bad for us – I enjoyed going to virtual zoom quizzes with different societies and my flat would play card games or watch films every night. The most exciting thing to come out of isolation had to be our giant food boxes where we got enough food to last us months! But very soon, just like the first lockdown, we quickly got bored. And things went from bad to worse when one of my flat mates started getting COVID symptoms around a week into our isolation. Then the day she got her positive test results I also started getting symptoms. After my positive test result I was told by Track and Trace that I needed to isolate for a further 10 days in my room and not socialise with any of my flatmates. 

Although the first thing that often comes to mind when suffering with the virus would be the physical symptoms, I found the mental impact was far greater than I expected. I thought isolation with my flatmates was tough, but now having to isolate on my own was an even bigger challenge. Moving away from home and transitioning to Uni was supposed to finally be the time to break free and take control of my own life decisions, but at that time I felt more restricted and helpless than before. Hearing my flat mates talk outside in the kitchen every night whilst I was stuck inside was an incredibly lonely feeling but there was nothing I could do about it. If this did teach me anything though it would be how much I had underestimated the value of human interaction, not just the type that’s through the phone screen. I would consider myself more introverted than extroverted, so alone time is very important for me to recharge my ‘social battery’, but I didn’t anticipate how difficult going 10 days confined to a small room without seeing anyone would actually be. 

Being alone gave me a lot of time to think (and overthink) about everything. One of the more dominating feelings I can recall was frustration. I was angry that the pandemic basically ruined my freshers experience and all my hopes and expectations about what Uni would be like. To some extent I felt really sorry for myself and my situation. I had only met a very small handful of people compared to some others I knew of who had been going to large parties and were somehow not catching the virus or having to isolate. I was annoyed that those who were acting selfishly and breaking the rules got to have the most fun whereas I could not. I ended up coming to the conclusion that as long as I continue to do my part as best as I can there is no point in wasting my energy trying to help in situations out with my control.

Physically, the virus caused me to feel more tired than usual and get sore eyes. By far the worse symptom was my inability to smell and taste. The fact I couldn’t even taste my food made things tough as I couldn’t enjoy the usual comfort food like chocolate. It was such a weird feeling – everything I ate was just bland and tasted the same, but I was able to feel sensations such as heat when I ate spicy food or the burn from minty toothpaste. The annoying thing about it was I discovered in the first week that I was a pretty decent cook despite having no previous experience, but now I wasn’t even able to taste anything that I had made! Thankfully after a week, my symptoms did start to improve. I was able to taste what was sweet and salty and eventually I was able to distinguish flavour. It was then where my mindset was finally more positive, as there was finally light at the end of the tunnel. I had already planned that the day I got out of lockdown I would go on a large shopping spree and treat myself because I thoroughly deserved a reward! 

This experience is definitely something I won’t forget for a long time. Despite how hard I found it, I was proud of myself for staying resilient and getting through this adversity. Looking back, it was a steep learning curve, as if moving to Uni in itself wasn’t enough already. Being directly affected by the pandemic opened my eyes to the true extent of impact the virus has had on individuals, not only physically but also mentally, which I was only able to sympathise with through the news previously. Since I came out of isolation, things are much better in terms of me settling into Uni. I am well aware our battle with COVID-19 is not over yet, but now that I have gone through such an experience once already, I feel more equipped and mentally prepared to deal with anything else that comes our way. 

By Tessa Yau