“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade”, so goes the proverbial phrase meant to encourage us to make do with the hand that we are dealt by life. During a recent Netflix binge, I heard a quirky modification that I prefer: “When life gives you lemons, don’t just stop at lemonade, bake an entire lemon meringue pie too!”. I like this second version much better because it’s not just about making do, but it’s about going above and beyond to make the best out of a situation.
The calm before the storm
It was the beginning of March 2020, and everything was going swimmingly. I was halfway through an intellectually stimulating and demanding master’s degree at the University of Warwick. The academic experience had turned out to be all I had hoped for. The modules explored fast-moving phenomena like business model innovation, big data, analytics and change management. The weeks were intense, and the daily simulators stretched my mind to the limit but I absolutely loved it.
As for the social side of student life at Warwick’s big and beautiful campus, there was never a dull moment. My days were packed with trips across the UK’s most iconic cities: Cambridge, London, Edinburgh and many more.
Seven-a-side football games with friends and classmates were a weekly fixture in my schedule and sometimes I would try something different and treat myself to a contemporary dance show or mini-orchestra performance at the Warwick Arts Centre on campus. These special events and experiences were all sandwiched in between long hours spent in the Postgraduate Cluster at the Warwick library.
Yes, I was acutely aware of the increasing global outbreak, but I had no idea that it would soon turn into a pandemic. I also had no idea of the severity of what was coming next.
The inertia and uncertainty of the lockdown
In the weeks and days leading up to the UK’s official lockdown, I watched as the public health crisis triggered a series of nationwide lockdowns across the world. I knew that a lockdown in the UK was therefore inevitable, but I was in denial. Then came the moment when the UK’s prime minister made the official announcement that initiated the lockdown, it was surreal. Inertia set in.
Gyms, restaurants, parks and libraries were all closed. Staying home had become the new reality and my previously vibrant social life had been reduced to the confines of my flat.
My mind was full of questions. What would this “new normal” look like? What would happen to my academic experience? Would the quality of teaching and learning deteriorate? Would I need to extend my studies and what would that mean for my visa situation as an international student? Would it have been better to go back home, maybe? I was not sure what awaited me, but I was about to find out.
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Life and learning during the lockdown (a silver lining)
A big sacrifice we all had to make while staying at home, was compromising our social lives. Gone were the days spent sitting over food and drinks getting to know friends from all over the world. Past were the times spent leisurely strolling through another one of the UK’s cities.
Shortly after the lockdown commenced, the University of Warwick let students know that face-to-face learning in classrooms and lecture halls would be indefinitely suspended and that teaching, and learning would be moved online. I must admit, I was sceptical.
However, 10 weeks since the lockdown began, I have been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. My academic department, Warwick Manufacturing Group, has done a stellar job in migrating the academic experience and interactions into the virtual learning environment with minor compromises on the quality.
The virtual classroom is hosted on the Microsoft Teams platform. This app enables remote working and education through video conferencing, group meetings and cloud-based tools. I have been impressed and inspired by the ability of an institution the size of Warwick to be nimble and adaptable to change.
On a personal level, it has been especially difficult being an international student and being far away from home and family amidst the current public health crisis and lockdowns. Warwick, in particular, has gone above and beyond to uphold the quality of the academic experience while striving to provide the kind of social support an international student like myself so desperately needed.
In conclusion, given the choice between the online classroom and face-to-face learning, I would choose face-to-face learning 11 times out of 10. However, the University of Warwick and other higher education institutions across the world receive full marks from me for making lemonade out of the lemons they were given.
An international student at the University of Warwick shares how his university experience has changed in the past few months