Dealing and coping with uncertainty
Jenny Chantratita blogs about the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, and the effect this has had on her degree. She also talks about how she learned to cope with and accept the uncertainty.
As a Modern Languages student, one of the most appealing parts of the course is the prospect of having a year abroad built into your degree. From the very beginning of my second year, I had mine all planned out. I was going to do a teaching assistant internship at a school in Seville, Spain and then study at a university in Eichstätt, Germany in my second semester. While I was nervous about leaving my friends behind, I was so excited to embark on this journey and come back to the UK a year later being fluent in both of my chosen languages. Little did I know, the COVID-19 outbreak that would happen in March would make this a thousand times more difficult.
In the space of two weeks, university life completely changed.
I remember first reading about coronavirus just before a German lecture. Like many others, I didn’t think too much of it as the virus wasn’t as prevalent in the UK at the time. However, in the space of two weeks, university life completely changed. All my lectures were now online and I was no longer able to go to any society events. Soon enough, lockdown was announced and I could only leave the house once a day for a bit of exercise.
I went from going to university for 9am lectures and coming back home at 10pm after a long evening of dance practice and socialising to being locked up in my student house 24/7. I felt extremely anxious and isolated. From the day that lockdown was announced, it was like I walking on a tight-rope that could snap at any moment. I could not plan my life because it was impossible to predict the future. The uncertainty drove me crazy!
As disastrous as this was, all my exams got cancelled and I was left with plenty of free time on my hands. It was nice to have a break from the busy life I led at university and invest more time in doing the things that I truly enjoyed outside of my studies. Then, I remembered my year abroad and my overwhelming anxiety came flushing back. My heart sank.
There was now a great possibility that I would be unable to go abroad. This was incredibly frustrating as it was something that I was looking forward to ever since I had chosen to study Modern Languages at university. I had worked so hard for my year abroad internship and university application. Most importantly, the year abroad is a compulsory part of the Modern Languages degree and without having an extremely high level of fluency in your languages, it was virtually impossible to graduate with a good honours degree.
I was desperate for some certainty even though I knew it was impossible.
I kept up with the news each day and became increasingly disheartened as the infection rates in Spain skyrocketed. My course-mates and I were frantically emailing the year abroad office only for them to give us a generic “we are unable to give any further guidance but we can assure you that we are trying our best” response. It wasn’t good enough. I was desperate for some certainty even though I knew it was impossible.
The uncertainty about whether my year abroad was able to go ahead caused a lot of stress. I was unable to sleep at night and was constantly in tears. Even though I tried my best to engage in activities that usually make me happy, nothing could truly lessen the amount of stress that I felt. My first two years of hard work might have gone to waste and without the required fluency in my languages, I was destined to have a hard time finding a job. I felt like my future career was potentially ruined. And it wasn’t even my fault!
After a long time, the year abroad office finally sent us a email stating that we either had the choice of continuing into our third year with the possibility of doing a “virtual year abroad” via an online platform in first semester, or to take a leave of absence for a year. Even though I understood that these were truly the best options that they could give us, I was still extremely disappointed at the outcome.
Not only was I potentially going to have to be stuck at my childhood bedroom desk doing online lessons, the university were being very unsympathetic.
Upon reading the email, I burst into tears. Not only was I potentially going to have to be stuck at my childhood bedroom desk doing online lessons, the university were being very unsympathetic. The tone of the email was curt and cold. When I asked the university staff for advice, they offered no empathy and expected me to be able to make a decision as to whether I would continue with my “year abroad” within five-day times. The university pushed a lot of students to continue and said that all students who chose to do so had to pay the full amount of fees even if they were not getting the full year abroad experience. This ultimately ruined my relationship with the university. Once faced with a crisis, they only seemed to care about our money. I found it unacceptable that they chose to neglect our well-being despite the numerous complaints we sent them.
I used to think that global pandemics only existed in fictional settings. I never thought a life full of complete uncertainty was something that I would have to live through. It never occurred to me that in a matter of a few months, all my future aspirations and present opportunities could vanish right before my eyes.
I knew there was nothing I could do but accept that this was the way things were. I spoke to my therapist about my anxiety and she said something that was truly thought-provoking:
“So, what are the things that you do know for certain?”
I paused to think.
“Well,” I said. “I still have a degree, a place to live, strong internet connection to connect with family and friends and access to food.”
Amidst all the uncertainty and panic, I forgot to stop that think about the positive things that I still had in my life. Even though this didn’t completely solve my problems, I knew that I had to embrace the uncertainty and remind myself that somehow everything always works out in the end- even if it never seems like it at the time.
The truth is that no matter how much we want to have complete certainty in life, we can’t. The only thing we can do is relax and go with the flow.
Later on, when I listened to a guided meditation from an app, I learnt that we sometimes worry because we seek control over the future. However, this can do more harm than good. The truth is that no matter how much we want to have complete certainty in life, we can’t. The only thing we can do is relax and go with the flow. The guided meditation ended with some wise words from the popular children’s story Winnie the Pooh:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.
And so was I.
I know there will still be uncertainty related to COVID-19 in the future. When this comes to mind, I stop and take a deep breath. I remind myself that I am unable to control the future and that at this very moment, everything is okay. And most importantly, everything will be okay.
Jenny is now in Germany doing an Eramus Exchange at a University in Bavaria. Jenny’s German has improved a lot and she is having a fantastic time there. While some of her friends have not been as lucky and had to remain at home, Jenny is grateful that she kept positive throughout lockdown and hopes that this blog will act as a form of reassurance for university students who are going through a similar situation.
Resources and support
Should you need support after reading this blog, you can find support from your university on our student resource hub.