On being a first-year student during the corona pandemic

by Hanna Singer

Dragging yourself from your bed to your desk half-asleep for the 8:30 lecture and having a leisurely breakfast in the meantime – a dream!

However, this routine is one of the few bright sides of the current online study programme, which predominantly confronts students with major new challenges. Time planning, motivation and social isolation are issues that are particularly in focus here.
Not surprisingly, the first-year students of HWS 20/21 in particular struggled with being overwhelmed: How do I put my timetable together? Where do I get certain information? Who are my contact persons and how can I make friends without meeting them at the university? These were the questions that kept me constantly busy in the early days.

The study offices at the University of Mannheim and committed student representatives helped me out here by organising not only an „Online Freshers‘ week“ but also group chats for the first-year students. This basis made it possible to connect with other first-year students despite the difficult conditions, and the feeling of being lost alone finally disappeared.

Especially for the students who had not taken the step and moved to Mannheim because of online studies, it was important to get out of their comfort zone and simply text others without restraint.
The wave of information that seems to inundate you in the first semester becomes manageable through communication with other first-semester students or other university acquaintances. The constant feeling of being overwhelmed slowly diminished and one became accustomed to the circumstances of online study.

Although you eventually conceptualized an overview of the university’s procedures and the first weeks had passed, very few of us experienced that „student feeling“. Only the possibility of meeting others in the cafeteria at the beginning of the semester and listening to the numerous stories about legendary Schneckenhof parties gave a small insight into what student life might be like under normal conditions. Drinking game nights on Zoom also did little to alleviate the feeling of missing out on something, at least for me. They were, however, small distractions from the otherwise relatively unspectacular, often stressful daily routine in front of the computer.

These were feelings that most first-year students shared from the beginning. Through this sense of community, people supported each other and in some cases friendships developed with fellow students, some of whose faces we still only know from the computer screen.
Personally, this was one of the biggest sources of motivation for me during the semester, because the certainty of being in the same boat as others and not being alone was of enormous importance, especially during the exam phase in December. Studying together in the libraries or online during exams made it easier to persevere, even gave everyday life a certain „student flair“ and freed you from your own four walls, at least temporarily.

Some first-semester students also benefited immensely from conversations with flatmates who tried to take away their fear of the first exam, provided much needed advice and made it clear that even experienced students have their difficulties with online studies. Hardly any student would not welcome a return to normality in student life at the university.
This normality still has to be explored by the first-semester students of HWS 20/21 and hopefully as soon as possible.

Then, presumably, our next biggest concern will be getting out of bed in time for the 8:30 lecture.