Return to campus: New students, new UBC

Only two months ago, I sat down to reflect on my year living on campus during the pandemic. I talked about the isolation, the loneliness, but most importantly, I highlighted the unfamiliar place that UBC became while most of its students were absent. How, despite its gorgeous campus and views, UBC’s true beauty comes from the people who inhabit it.

There was a lot of excitement there in that first piece of writing. The vaccine rollout seemed to be giving us a tangible end to the pandemic and a normal school year seemed not only possible, but very probable.

At the beginning of the summer, after all my friends and I had received our first doses of the vaccine, we talked about our return to university with pure excitement. The vaccine seemed like a ticket to normalcy – and with one dose in our system, we were just one stop away.

We reminisced about our first couple of years at school before the pandemic changed everything, using those experiences to plan what we hoped our final year would look like.

But as the summer wound down and the cool August air washed over the city, we found the excitement start to fade. Not because we didn’t want to return, but because despite what we were hoping for, this year wasn’t going to be the normal that we remembered.

One by one, our schools released statements putting vaccine and mask mandates into place. While thankful for the extra precautions our schools were taking to keep everyone safe, these measures were reminders that normal life may not be not be back for a long time –maybe not ever.

There is enough to worry about during a normal school year –classes, assignments, juggling work with school and school with a social life – but with the added stress of the pandemic, the normal back to school anxiety is heightened for everyone. Where excitement once was, now there is fear. Not only the fear that you might get sick, but also the fear that you might infect others.

I carried this anxiety with me on my travels back to campus. Huddled in my plane seat trying to watch movies, my mind was still preoccupied by all of the unknowns that come with this year’s unusual return to campus.

After settling into my new apartment, I took the 99 bus to UBC to reacquaint myself with the campus after being gone for so many months. Despite knowing that residences had reopened, I still imagined I would arrive at the campus that I left behind at the end of last year. I was expecting desolate streets, locked buildings and empty roads. And as you’ve probably guessed, I was instead met by the complete opposite: groups of first years drinking coffee on the knoll, people playing spike ball on the turf field and generally just lots of people walking around, inhabiting the campus.

At first I was taken aback. It felt strange, even wrong to see so many people wandering around campus. It was almost as if I had forgotten what UBC was like before the pandemic hit, what it was supposed to be like. As a community we’ve separately endured a lot over the past year and a half: classes, exams, lockdowns, sickness and isolation, among a host of other things.

But with the return to in-person classes, campus is beginning to fulfill its purpose again: to bring us together and to create a community. If we could figure out how to adjust apart over the past year and a half, I’m confident that we’ll be able to do it together. I can’t say that all of my anxieties over the new year were wiped away after this visit, but the feeling of returning to campus now not only feels right, it feels necessary.