The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in different ways. This article reflects some of the different experiences, both challenges and positive outcomes that LUT students have had during the pandemic that have impacted studies and the social lives of students.
Through interviews with students, different topics were discussed to understand the differences students experienced depending on the phase of their studies that were affected by the pandemic and some of the positive outcomes. Degree programme newcomers from 2019, 2020, and 2021 were interviewed for this article.
What does “pandemial” mean?
A “pandemial” is an expression that is becoming popular to represent Generation Z, a group of young people whose higher education, personal lives, and wellbeing were seriously impacted during the pandemic. However, in this article the term “pandemial” refers to any LUT student that started, completed, or continued their university studies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meeting new people – What were the challenges and opportunities students experienced during the pandemic?
The Fall orientation week for newcomers in 2019 took place before the pandemic, and the orientation programming was not affected. Students attended the planned programme with other students on campus, and there were lots of social programs throughout the week that made students excited to start their LUT studies. Many students bonded with other newcomers during this first week and met the friends they would spend their time with during the remainder of their studies at LUT.
“The pandemic did not prevent students from making friends and meaningful connections on the LUT campus.”
Newcomers in 2020 and 2021 had a bit different orientation experience as they had most of their orientation programme held online or in a hybrid setup in accordance with national health recommendations. Students were required to quarantine at home prior to coming to campus if they came from abroad, and many students were in quarantine during the orientation week.
However, the pandemic did not prevent students from making friends and meaningful connections on the LUT campus. Tutor groups were active to connect students within the same degree programme and campus administration tried their best to welcome newcomers in a remote or hybrid way during 2020 and 2021.
Newcomers in 2020 and 2021 that were interviewed stated that they needed to make an effort to be active and join different clubs and campus organizations to become a closer part of the LUT community from the start of their studies.
“Meeting new people during the pandemic has been harder than pre-pandemic times. With remote studies, you can’t simply start talking to the person sitting next to you in class and meeting people is less organic,” cited a newcomer from 2021.
However, newcomers, especially international students who didn’t have an established friend group in Finland before starting studies at LUT have often made that extra effort and been active to join groups and attend student activities to develop connections within the LUT student community.
How did the pandemic affect students the most – academically or socially?
For most students across the newcomer years interviewed (2019-2021), the pandemic affected students mostly related to their social lives. Students in general were quick to adapt to utilizing technology to attend courses remotely and work together with classmates in a remote way for projects. Some students met up with classmates to watch and engage in lectures together in small groups of 2-3 students to help stay motivated during long lecture days. Some students noticed less participation and engagement from students in an online environment than in-person lectures, but this varied across courses. Some students also feel more motivated to comment in class on a topic or raise their hand when they attend class in person, and less motivated online.
Occasional technical difficulties in online lectures or hearing difficulties online happen, but most students did not find these mishaps affected their LUT learning experience in a significant way.
Newcomers in 2019 had a normal first semester on campus. Students developed routines studying on campus in the library, meeting up with friends for lunch and dinner, and working out at the gym with friends. For these newcomers, many left for campus in the morning and did not return home until late in the evening before going to sleep. These students had to adjust their routine abruptly when the pandemic situation worsened in the students’ second semester of studies. Some students had difficulties staying motivated while working 100% from home and limiting their social interaction to their flat mates. Over time, new routines were developed, and national recommendations also allowed people to meet up on occasion with friends in a socially distanced, and safe way, which helped with student wellbeing.
Newcomers in 2020 and 2021 experienced remote and hybrid course setups from the start of their studies. They have also had to deal with the challenges of changes during the pandemic situation from an escalated situation with a high volume of cases shutting down campus facilities and the reopening of campus and loosening restrictions when the pandemic situation improved.
When campus activities resumed, many students chose to continue studying primarily from home if courses were held in a hybrid manner as they felt more comfortable working independently at home. Other students were ready to come back to campus as soon as possible and were eager to meet up with people on campus again and attend live lectures in-person. The flexibility of hybrid courses allows students to choose the study method that suits them best.
Did students enjoy switching from in-person classes to studying remotely when campuses closed for health precautions?
Some students who commuted to LUT campuses from other cities a few times a week found the switch to remote studies to be more convenient for them. Students also had more flexibility to move to other cities in Finland, travel, or return to their home country (international students) for a few months when courses were fully remote and campus facilities were closed. Other challenges like dealing with distractions in different home environments and potential time differences between Finland and the location of students could have negative effects, but many students interviewed said that the flexibility to attend courses anywhere was something they were thankful for during the pandemic.
Some students mentioned the uncertainty and stress caused from constant changes in recommendations from university officials and national health advice. Although the pandemic situation is impossible to predict what will happen next, students cited that the uncertainty on campus frequently coincided with a time in the semester when there were many projects and exams coming due, and the changes sometimes make studying and staying focused more challenging.
Did students develop new hobbies during the pandemic?
With less time students were “required to be on campus” (due to hybrid or remote studies), many students found they had much more free time around their study schedule.
Some students started spending more time outdoors, exercising or hiking during the warm months and taking up activities like cross-country skiing or ice-skating during winter. A newcomer for 2021 mentioned that she splits up her day of online lectures by going for a walk outside, and these breaks help to keep her energized when she isn’t surrounded by classmates and friends on campus. Baking and improving cooking skills at home were other skills that newcomers from 2021 developed during the pandemic.
Crafting and doing creative activities were hobbies that other students discussed. One alumnus interviewed started making homemade paper after getting inspiration from a course about pulp and paper mills. Another alumnus from the newcomer 2019 class picked up knitting again after a decade break.
What skills have pandemials developed while studying during a challenging time?
Adaptability, determination, grit, and flexibility are some of the strengths pandemials have developed.
Students had to adapt their way of working and studying during the pandemic. They were faced with adversity, but they still found creative ways to stay motivated, support their LUT colleagues and classmates, and progress well in their studies. Although everyone in the LUT student community was faced with different challenges depending on the phase of their studies that took place during the pandemic, each student found their own way forward. This ability to adapt to new circumstances as well as strong determination and grit to push forward in studies and life will help pandemial graduates in their working life long after their studies.