Return to campus: Home away from home

Last June, I was faced with a decision.

I’d just been accepted as a transfer to UBC’s Vancouver campus from UBCO. Normally this would not be something to ponder over, but because my freshman year had been cut short due to COVID-19 and I had missed out on all the different campus traditions, I was hesitant to start over elsewhere.

But maybe starting over somewhere new was just what I needed.

When making the decision to transfer to UBCV, the one thing that had appealed to me the most was the wide variety of courses. I was excited at the prospect of studying invigorating and intriguing courses in a bigger campus where I could interact with many more students and faculty. After having been home for five months straight and being in a different time zone, I really wanted to return to Canada and take online classes from here, a privilege I knew wasn’t available to everyone.

Still, with the ongoing pandemic, I knew things would be different.

Coming to Vancouver and attending UBC for the first time was something that felt quite daunting especially because I was already worried about not being able to meet new people and socialize. What made matters worse is that although I was aware that the campus would not be at its full capacity, I was not prepared for just how empty it would look.

My first thought upon moving in was to ask, “Where was everyone?”

The fact that my only human interaction for the longest time was with my two other roommates, and another friend that had transferred to UBCV as well, was a bit disappointing and made me question whether it would have been better to have just stayed home. However, I realized that it was better to push through the discomfort I felt and instead try and make the most of my time here. What I couldn’t find in dorm life, I tried to look for outside as I explored the city in my search for a sense of belonging.

Having to take courses online was still not a great feeling. Though we had been doing online classes since March 2020, when the pandemic first started, something about being in Vancouver and the exact location of where these classes should have been held and still being unable to physically access them did not sit right with me.

As the days went by, I started to feel more and more disconnected and often found myself staring aimlessly at my ceiling wondering why this had happened. While finding friends has always been difficult for me — an introvert — doing so from behind a screen brought with it even more challenges. At some point, I stopped trying at all because it didn’t feel as though anything would amount from it.

In an online setting, I couldn’t help but feel less involved, especially regarding joining different clubs and organizations on campus because while I knew they were still active, a part of me could not get rid of the feeling that the current academic year was taking away from our true college experience.

Now, as restrictions are slowly easing up and the majority of us have received the first dose of the vaccine, being able to experience college-life in person no longer seems like a distant dream. When UBC finally announced its return to in-person classes, I could not contain my joy. The thought of being on campus with everyone else, and being able to intermingle with them, as each of us navigate through our own personal journeys — alone but together — thrills me.

What I’m most excited about is finally feeling that sense of community and belonging that I have been so desperately hoping to find. One of the many things about living on campus while taking classes online that irked me the most was seeing all the different academic buildings while passing by and not being able to go inside. Now, as we return to a relatively ‘normal’ way of life, I am excited to finally go to Koerner Library , a building whose architecture I have been admiring for quite some time.

At this moment, I am taking my very first in-person summer course here at UBCV and aside from it serving as a reminder that things are slowly and hopefully taking a turn for the better, the quality of my learning experience feels so much better and reveals to me exactly what all of us missed out on during the last year.

Something that I am more than ready for is to make new memories on campus and finally let go of the pre-pandemic memories I cherished so deeply. While the pandemic is still far from over, I am hopeful that soon enough we will still pull through and finally, come together as a campus and celebrate all that we had missed out on during the previous year.