Realisations of a first year COVID-19 law student: Surviving big changes in tough times

I received my undergraduate degree by lounging in lecture halls, scrunching into tiny study nooks and splaying on the many lawns of my university. I never thought I would miss all the different ways I could plonk myself down to stare at a textbook or lecture and absorb absolutely nothing. I am starting to believe that having such diversity of locales not only brought enjoyment to my undergraduate degree, but made the content I was learning that much richer and engaging.

At the end of 2019 I changed universities. I left behind the halls, nooks and lawns I had learnt in. I thought I was changing them for new scenery and the new knowledge a Juris Doctor would award me. I was misled, not by Monash, but by life and the pressing threat of a pandemic. So, this year I have spent less than ten weeks in the unique environments, situations, and spaces of the Law Chambers. I am completely disconnected from that physical realm of learning and it dragged me down mentally, physically and emotionally.

Not only have the physical boons of having a campus to attend been stripped from my first-year experience, but so have the traditional aspects of socialising, in a physical community. These are all things that personally I find essential to having a well-rounded university degree and help justify the amount of debt I am diving into. If I had my way and this year was still in my control, I would have been heavily involved in these activities. Yet, we do not get these aspects of our degree anymore. Instead, we get online learning, the isolation that comes with it and the struggle of chasing after even a scrap of motivation and volition to do any study. 

Clearly, for me the first-year experience has not been great, and I am sure many others have similar stories of woe that come from studying through a pandemic.

Having said that, I do not want my message from this year to be that studying under extraneous circumstances is a horrible, stressful and completely worthless experience. That would diminish the strength, ingenuity, and pure goddamn grit that many have shown during these times.

As a newcomer to the Monash law student community, I have witnessed people band together and support both friends and strangers. I have experienced zoom mates working extra hard to ensure the community is fostered and connections grow. Even though times have been tough, I have yet to feel that things are completely hopeless and will be so forever. Rather I have seen people tackle issues with humour and overcome the many obstacles this year has thrown at the student community with determination. 

While these difficult times make it hard to adapt to change, there is a way through. I have come to the realisation that building a support network regardless if it is a small group of friends or an entire cohort of students is vital to my survival as a law student. 

This year has been a challenging experience and I am positive there are more down the road. Yet, I find it reassuring to know that there is a friendly, passionate and determined community who are always ready to help. 

Written by Gianna Fermo

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