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Coronavirus and beyond: Coping with student life

By Patrick de Kretser

For students, 2020 certainly has been a year which has caused an unprecedented disruption to normal study life. Both high school students and those enrolled at university have seen a drastic shift to their learning schedule, as the Covid-19 pandemic has replaced in-person classes with online lectures. For existing university students and those that are meant to be freshmen this year, there has been an additional hurdle. Travel restrictions and security policy updates in many countries have prevented students from being able to either travel or remain within the countries they are studying in. Regardless, universities still offer a wide array of opportunities and avenues for students to embark on and explore despite the setbacks that this year has had. But with avenues of opportunity come important decisions and it is important that we all know when to make the right choices.

For our feature this week, we are looking into the experiences of two university students and one graduate from high school. The first is Ashanee Kottage, a graduate from Colombo International School who is currently studying for her bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University. Like many students, Ashanee has had to adjust to the reality of virtual learning as the coronavirus pandemic has halted normal university life. Majoring in science, technology, and international affairs, Ashanee is no stranger to multitasking and has taken up a variety of extracurricular activities such as being a part of the South Asian Society at Georgetown University and getting involved with theatre and artistry. She describes her decision to use the grant she got for sustainable tourism in South East Asia within Sri Lanka because of the pandemic as a welcome one. “It’s been nice to be back in Sri Lanka after almost a year,” is what she had to say on the sudden change of circumstances. 

Another university student, Malika Sugathapala, also details the struggles he faced adapting to the changes this year. For him, the impact of the pandemic was an initial shock to his ability to perform. “I had to change my studying patterns since everything was online. Learning became a lot harder since it was hard to understand theoretical concepts without actually being in a classroom environment,” is what he had to say on the changes he had to accept this year. He described his decision to take more online classes this summer to counteract this as an effective step moving forward, stating: “It is generally easier because it was one-fourth of the total price and half of the time duration.” For him, it was an important decision to take a gap semester so that he could find work in Sri Lanka and find alternative ways to remain productive. For university students, these sorts of decisions are the ones that seem like the most pertinent and important considering the circumstance we live in today and the weight those decisions carry.

Moving on to a student who just recently graduated from high school, Kayla Collett is also somebody who has had a lot to adjust to this year. “I never got the chance to do my Advanced Levels,” she said, commenting on the fact that the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of the Cambridge Advanced Level Examinations. Collett was a high achiever at school; she was Deputy Head Girl for her batch and also held a number of other leadership positions, ranging from Netball Captain to Student Body President. For her, the cancellation of her final exams was a tough one to process since she did not get the best results in her mock examinations which were used as one of the marking criteria when assessing her final grades. “I studied so hard for my exams only for them to be cancelled. I got terrible grades for my mock examinations…I felt like I had no chance or hope left for getting a good grade,” is what she later added on to this. However, she describes her persistence to stay positive despite the circumstances to be an important one, stating: “Even when life gets difficult, keep persisting and you’ll get there.”

Many of us can relate to the pain we have had to share during this tough year, which is why it is important for us to remember that we are not alone in having to adapt to recent changes. Whether you are a high school student or a university student, tough decisions will be presented to you suddenly. It is important to remember that we need to take these decisions one step at a time and remember that despite how bad things may seem, there is always an opportunity for us to pave our way forward and not let unfortunate circumstances get the better of us.