After the COVID-19 pandemic forced the universities in Spain to close and students were told to return home, myself and many others were faced with the new reality of online learning. Neither students nor professors were prepared for this total change in teaching style. Within a week, I went from attending classes as normal in Alcalá, to being back at home in Scotland, and it took a while for the universities to work out how to cope with the new situation.
Everything changed very quickly. There wasn’t a lot of clarity regarding what students should do next, particularly for those students studying abroad. Was this the end of Erasmus? What about the requirements we needed for the year abroad? I came home very worried that my semester would be scrapped, or that I would somehow be penalised for not having stayed in Spain. Eventually everyone was recalled, and so universities had to decide how to proceed with teaching and examinations.
My first few weeks at home were the worst. I felt as though some courses had put all their materials online at once and I didn’t know where to start, whereas others took a while to get in touch. All of a sudden, I was spending almost all my waking hours wading through materials with no sense of direction, while also trying to work out what I should prioritise for up-coming assessments. I went from being able to talk to professors and classmates to help me keep on top of things or seek clarification, to feeling totally out the loop and having nightmares that I’d missed emails about essays or that I’d missed online classes. It was quite overwhelming.
I realized I needed a semblance of a routine if I was going to cope with the workload. For the first month I barely took breaks and I was afraid that I was far-behind, even though I really had no idea what I was working towards. The first thing I changed was my environment. While I used to do my homework at my desk in my room during my high school years, I’d always studied elsewhere for exams. I was working intensively, so I realised it would be a good idea to separate my work environment from where I sleep and relax – especially as it started to become clear that I would be studying from home the rest of the semester. I found a collapsible table (a tad wobbly but oh well) and moved my laptop, stationery and books into a small room we call the ‘study’ (despite the fact it’s just an oversized cupboard which had become home to the ironing board). I’m thankful I had somewhere else to move my work because I immediately felt better. I started to sleep better, and felt I had regained some control.
One of my worst habits is missing meals or eating them while studying, so I decided I had to make time for breakfast and dinner. Other than tea or coffee, I made sure to keep meal times and work strictly separate. I also started to make a timetable each week with checklists for what I should do each day. I managed to adapt and looked forward to the feeling of ticking off the boxes one by one. Although the weeks seem to merge together, perhaps that wasn’t a bad thing as when the final essays and exams rolled around, it didn’t seem as intense. Furthermore, it was nice to have home comforts and family around as a support.
I’d say that studying at home has taught me a lot about myself and how I work. I realise now that I need a routine and that I also need to find time for myself. Keeping in contact with other students is important too, although as my semester was cut short, I didn’t have nearly as many classmates’ contacts as I would have liked. This new situation has been difficult for most, and I’m sure everyone has adjusted in their own way. This semester of my year abroad has certainly been a strange one. I went abroad to improve my language skills, experience a new culture, and make new friends, but I ended up back at home and isolated for a few months. However, as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. I got to spend more time with my family, and had even more time to study! It’s no substitute, but I’ve learned more about what I can do to work effectively, which will undoubtedly help me in the years to come.