From uncertainty to a new hope: Thoughts from an unusual term


I breathed a sigh of relief as I stepped onto campus for the first time in the fall term of 2021. Although it wasn’t my first time back on campus in 2021, the hustle and bustle of first- and second-years, the sight of professors with Tim Hortons or Starbucks or stale Ike’s coffee in hand and the general peopledness of campus in September made me smile. This was the moment my peers and profs and I had waited for with much anticipation: the start of this, an in-person term, after so many gruelling days of doing coursework in front of a computer screen. I must admit, it was great to do a few dramatic run-and-hug scenes (with masks, of course) and grab way more coffees with friends than I had in my entire university career. I began writing for The Ubyssey, and expressed my optimism about the new school year through some pretty neat poetry. Things were looking bright. And boy, was I happy to be back on such hallowed intellectual grounds.


Soon enough, though, I realized that things were different from before.

Some of my friends and I had drifted apart over the period of online learning, while a few friendships were abruptly and unexpectedly broken. On top of that, I often had trouble staying concentrated on assignments, sometimes opening Word documents for mere seconds before clicking them closed, as if the almost-blank, off-white pages scathed my eyes. The disease of procrastination was allowed to fester, too. Things began to stack up. As it slowly but surely became clear to me, the pandemic had eaten away at my academic motivation, bit by bit, Zoom call by Zoom call. Now, back on campus, my motivation levels were at a critical low. In a usual year, I would limit myself to one all-nighter per term, but by midterm season of fall 2021, I had already engaged in two or three nuits blanches.

Through this all, a fear began to emerge and it slowly coated my brain. Was this how it was going to be from now on? Was this how I was going to be? Would that spark, that brilliant academic spark, or the sheer, awesome beauty of this experience that I once held dear, abandon me forever?

Building back

But it was also clear that I was not alone in my toils. Conferring with friends, I knew that others had similar bouts of amotivation and worry. When sharing my fears of never getting back to my pre-pandemic self, a history department peer responded: “But we’ll never be able to go back to our pre-pandemic ways nor our pre-pandemic selves — not really, anyway.” And that sounded about right. Accepting that was a start.

In spite of some of my gloom, I trekked on through the term. I did myself favours in asking for extensions, managing to secure precious days or weeks for rest and meaningful, intentional work from my lovely profs. I also started up at UBC Counselling again, and had many, many more coffee check-ins with friends (notwithstanding the long Tim’s or Starbucks lineups).

I also began going on long walks on campus, either with a friend or alone, around places I hadn’t explored before. The Nitobe Memorial Garden gave me peace. Wreck Beach gave me fresh sea wind and air (and the Wreck Beach stairs gave me a workout); the Asian Centre gave me ideas for future study spots (and a mini panic attack when the Centre’s sketchy elevator stopped for a moment). And, although I had already visited many times in years past, the Museum of Anthropology was also a place of calm and reflection for me in fall 2021. I would sit facing Bill Reid’s Raven and the First Men, eyeing the intricate carving, or following the patterns raked into the sand at the sculpture’s base. What beautiful things there were here, in this place, in this in-person experience that I both longed for and stressed over.

Exam season came and went without a hitch. With my last exam over (a fun one on French cinema), the end of December brought me relief and relaxation. We had made it through. I had made it through. And I was proud. I celebrated with some Baileys and a Zoom call. The sense of accomplishment was immense. At least a bit of that spark was back. Times were good.

Although the first few weeks back will be online, this new year, much like the first Star Wars film, brings to me, and to all of us, a new hope. And that new hope, regardless of what happens in the future, is meaningful, valuable and beautiful.