inishing high school and starting university or TAFE is a rite of passage that ususally comes with new-found freedoms, life lessons and social experiences.

But the cancellation of face-to-face teaching due to COVID-19 cut short that exciting experience for many teenagers.

As tertiary institutions begin to open up their lecture theatres again, ABC Sydney asked four first-year students how they coped with studying remotely and what it is like returning to campus.

Lillie O’Kelly, Macquarie University

Lillie O’Kelly said studying online meant a heavier workload compared to attending tutorials in person.(Supplied: Lillie O’Kelly)

Lillie O’Kelly, a Bachelor of Arts student, has not let quarantine stop her from joining numerous university societies — including the Kanye West society, which held regular virtual dance parties during lockdown.

She has now returned to classes on campus and says the university has provided masks, sanitiser wipes and has been strict about social distancing.

“I did find it difficult at the beginning to study from home. There were a couple of weeks where it was really sluggish to get myself out of bed and interact with the content.

“I had to create a routine for myself and allocate time for uni. My boyfriend failed a couple of units because it was so unmotivating for him.

“I was disappointed that we couldn’t do the quintessential parties, meeting people and interacting with the uni, but I don’t necessarily feel left out.”

Khuat Son Tra Nguyen, University of Sydney

Tra is less fearful of COVID-19 now that Sydney University has reopened to students.(ABC Sydney: Amanda Hoh)

Khuat Son Tra Nguyen moved from Vietnam to study a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Sydney, and says the lockdown left her feeling lonely at times.

She experienced just two weeks of university life before the campus was shut down earlier this year.

“The hardest thing about the lockdown was keeping my emotions positive. I have a lot of friends who are also international students, and when COVID-19 happened, they were all talking about negative things and many went back to their hometowns.

She said she was feeling less worried after the University of Sydney resumed face-to-face teaching last week.

“I like looking at people. I love the feeling when you start a conversation and you’re looking at their eyes and you smile, and you don’t have to worry about the conversation getting interrupted by your internet connection,” she said.

Blake Hoffman, TAFE NSW

Blake is doing a nursing placement at Blacktown Hospital.(Supplied: Blake Hoffman)

Blake Hoffman was going to take a gap year after finishing Year 12 but the pandemic thwarted those plans.

When he was unable to find a job, he applied for a scholarship and earned a place in a Diploma of Nursing course.

Blake first stepped onto the Wetherill Park campus in August, for an intensive three-week practical skills course before starting a placement at Blacktown Hospital.

“I found it easy to make friends, because I talk to everyone. It was nice meeting them online first, then in person, because it’s like they’re a friend you’ve known for a long time.

“[Starting Uni online] was disappointing but there’s nothing I can do to change it.

“The content is the same but the motivation is very difficult — there are so many distractions at home.

“It was important to get into a routine so you don’t burn out. Make use of the short breaks so you’re not constantly thinking about it.”

“It’s important to know it’s not going to last forever and I will get that experience.”

Kavithri Weerasuriya, University of Western Sydney

Kavithri is sad her course will not offer face-to-face lessons until next year.(Supplied: Kavithri Weerasuriya)

Kavithri Weerasuriya is studying a Bachelor of Business and hopes to work in fashion when she finishes her degree.

As an international student from Sri Lanka, she has been living in student accommodation on campus.

Her classes will not be returning to face-to-face teaching until next year.

“It’s not the typical university experience,” Kavithri said.

“I had friends who came here the year before and posted photos on social media of them having a blast and so I was really looking forward to those experiences.

“Not making friends who are in uni and who are in your course and being able to relate that we are in this together … that kind of sucks.

“And it saddens me that I can’t go home to Sri Lanka for a holiday. So I will be here for a very long time without my family.

“I kind of like studying online though, as it gave me that extra challenge of self-motivating.”


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