Lydia Houghton, 19, travelling from home in from Sandbach, Cheshire

Ah, 2020. I could easily say ‘what a year it’s been’, but if I’m honest, it’s felt more like a decade. It’s no longer a matter of remembering your car keys, but rather frantically searching the house for a face mask; undoubtedly, it’s a year we won’t forget. And for me, a nineteen-year-old living in such times, it’s also the year that I begin university.

My story’s a little different from others; starting at Salford University will be my second time undertaking the venture. After a false start elsewhere, this year I find myself in a déjà vu situation, as a university fresher for the second time. And let me tell you, the experience couldn’t be more different.

Growing up, we gradually become aware of the expectation to move out once you turn 18, leaving home and travelling to some unknown city to begin university. But along came Covid-19, with its own agenda. I find myself among the many students choosing to live at home, in fear of another lockdown threatening to separate me from my family. This time around, I’m starting university in my childhood bedroom, with a MacBook screen becoming my best friend. Thank goodness for technology, where would we be without it? As I eagerly await the release of my timetable, I find myself racked with anxiety – how much will I be travelling? Will I even get to be on Campus? The reality of starting university during a pandemic is that there are so many unknowns. Each day looks different from the next and as a student, this is quite frankly terrifying. As I anticipate the start of term, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed; my whole adult life is ahead of me, and it’s swamped in uncertainty.

Yet as induction activities began this past week, I found a source of comfort: my classmates. The many video calls brought with them an array of smiling faces and as I surveyed the crowd (virtually, of course), I began to realise that I’m not alone. Making friends may involve a facemask or a screen, but there’s still hundreds of like-minded students starting this journey with me; yes, we have to go about things a little differently, but what an amazing story to tell, ‘Ah yes, we first met on a Zoom call.’ Unique, to say the least. And as the introductions began, I started to feel hopeful, because these days won’t last forever. There will come a time when we can hug, smile and laugh without fear of infection. And the experience of starting university during a pandemic, is an experience us first years will always share.

For me, the temporary removal of the infamous university ‘night-life’, is a blessing in disguise. With fewer distractions, I’ve been given the opportunity to focus. I find myself starting university with determination, to focus on what I do have rather than what I don’t have. This is a chance to study harder than ever, as we wait with anticipation, to see what our future holds.

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