It started as a virus that seemed to only be affecting people in Wuhan. But then it spread and there were a few cases reported in the UK, then there was a confirmed case in Canary Wharf at a neighbouring building to the school.
Like all other universities we were still attending classes but I noticed an increase in the number of people wearing face masks on my commute. By the end of February, it was clear that the situation was evolving and my classmates and I were beginning to feel anxious about going to classes.
Whenever someone coughed on the underground they would be given suspicious looks. I felt so uneasy on the underground during rush hour. What if someone next to me had it? So much had changed in the space of one week. Thankfully we were receiving daily updates from UCL to keep us informed as the situation was evolving.
The first change UCL implemented was to not penalise us for missing classes. They also gave us the option to do assessed presentations via Zoom, Skype or do voice overs on a PowerPoint presentation.
But I was facing another difficult decision. I needed to attend an information session at UCL BaseKX about securing a start-up visa, it was the last one of the year and I needed to attend to apply for the visa. I was scared to go but I this was important as I needed it to start my business in the UK. It felt like I had to pick between my health and my future.
Some universities announced they were closing their campuses and moving to virtual teaching, with UCL also being one of the first to make that call. It was a relief to know that we no longer had to risk our lives by going to class, but it was also sad as we realised that we were not going to see our classmates again. The MSc Entrepreneurship cohort had become very tight knit and yet we’ve parted without saying goodbye.
My first virtual learning experience was a group presentation. My group spent our weekend on Zoom preparing the presentation, sharing screens, creating Google docs and practicing the delivery of our presentation in this new virtual environment. All of us were social distancing, but we could see from social media that some of our peers were continuing life as normal. It was very confusing and we felt as if we were the crazy ones for social distancing.
During the presentation we experienced a few technical issues, with downloading Skype Business and one person having connectivity issues, but despite this it went reasonably well. The School of Management has been very understanding of the different issues that may arise moving to virtual learning, for example our lecturer even offered everyone a two-week extension for their presentations.
The school was trying to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible and ensure we still had the same quality education we would be receiving in person, so for a Prototyping class on Zoom, we had two guest speakers as well as our lecturer.
Our classes range from one to three hours. The Prototyping class lasted three hours and unlike our face-to-face sessions I found it difficult to pay attention and keep focused. I’ve realised that I prefer in person classes because the in-person interaction makes it easier to focus. I’ve realised that remote learning requires you to be extremely self-disciplined and sit at the desk the whole time and take notes.
Our final two classes were held on the virtual platform, Blackboard. This system was more interactive and encouraged discussions and participation. I think this is partly because we’ve started getting used to it, but the application also had more features to get involved, like raising our hands. Overall, I think this system worked quite well.
Keeping a positive attitude towards wellbeing
It has also been nice to see that the Careers and Wellness departments are still available for us during these times to support us with our mental wellbeing. At times like these it is important to check in with yourself, be mindful of your emotions and ensure you do things to remain positive and happy.
Right now I am feeling anxious about the future. It is difficult to complete my assignments and dissertation while there is such chaos all over the world. I am worried about my grades and if I will be able to excel in my final assignments, as I am constantly worried about my family back home in Zimbabwe. On one hand, I would like the dissertation to be postponed and on the other, I just want to finish my degree this year.
When UCL said we could go home I decided to stay in the UK because I felt that by travelling I might put my family in danger. I was also fearful that depending on visa restrictions I might not be able to return.
Where I come from in Zimbabwe there is no healthcare system to speak of, a weak currency, poor economy and no real future for young people. Being at UCL is my opportunity to get out and create something better for myself.
To remain positive, I catch up with my family and friends on video calls. I have recently joined the HouseParty app and it has been a great way to keep in touch with friends. I also exercise regularly and I am trying out new recipes. Another tool I am using to support my mental wellbeing is to keep a daily journal to note all my thoughts and feelings and so that I can look back on these crazy times.
One thing that is also helping me remain positive is planning all the exciting things I will do after this all ends. I am seeing this as an opportunity to prepare for my place in the new world.