University life during a pandemic: How 3 students are coping with online learning

University represents a new chapter in life. It’s where people find life-long friends, make lasting memories and discover new things about themselves.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has put a damper on the university experience.

Most classes at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University in Fredericton are online. That means students are learning from the comfort of their own space — but that can also mean distractions.

“Since I’m doing everything on my computer, basically I go into this monkey brain mode like, ‘Computer has work. Computer also has fun game so you can do fun game or you can do boring work,'” said Colin Dunn, a first-year student at UNB, who lives in Marysville.

“You can probably guess which one I choose most of the time.”

Colin Dunn, a first-year student at the University of New Brunswick, reflects on staying motivated while taking classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:44

Dunn said his days are spent in his room on his computer and his biggest challenge is finding the incentive to complete his school work.

“Traditionally, I wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble if I was doing work at school, on the school property, but when I’m at home, I associate that with … relaxing after or before school,” he said. 

“I’ve always had a hard time with homework for that exact reason. And now literally everything is homework.”

Sofia Paura, an international student from Brazil in her fourth year at St. Thomas University, is facing a similar problem.

“It doesn’t feel like learning because I feel like I’m constantly just handing in assignments,” Paura said. “It’s not a matter of what I’m learning, it’s a matter of how much can be turned in by the deadline.”

Sofia Paura, a fourth-year student at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, faces a year of isolation as the COVID-19 pandemic forces her to complete her degree from her home in Florida. 1:00

Paura said it doesn’t even feel like she’s in university, but she’s more stressed and anxious than she’s even been.

One reason for that — she’s living in Florida with her parents, nearly 3,000 kilometres away from her university.

Paura is expected to graduate next year but not being around her friends, classmates and professors has made her feel isolated in her own home.

“At the end of the day, as soon as I turn my camera off, I’m back [in] this bubble. I’m back in my own life [without] people in it,” she said.

[It] has been very, very hard … being isolated from my own expectations of how this year was supposed to go.– Sofia Paura, university student

“So that has been very, very hard — the sense of being being isolated from everyone else, being isolated from classes and being isolated from my own expectations of how this year was supposed to go.”

Isolation is a common feeling among university students this year.

Brookelyn Harmon, a first-year nursing student at the University of New Brunswick, moved to Fredericton from Halifax, without knowing anyone in the city.

Harmon lives in an apartment and all of her classes are online, so she’s only been able to meet about five classmates in person.

Brookelyn Harman, a first-year nursing student at the University of New Brunswick, says the COVID-19 pandemic has forced her to develop a new mentality around school. 0:45

“It takes a lot of the stress off, actually,” she said. 

“I was surprised at how much it did, but having people to ask questions about assignments or double check our labs answers or if we fail a test, it’s really comforting to know we’re not the only one.”

Harmon said she has had to accept that she won’t make the same grades she did in high school, which is exacerbated by the stress of online learning.

“It was definitely challenging to switch from really high standards for myself to being, ‘OK, as long as you do understand and you pass, it’s fine.'”

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