Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori.

One Year In: Love and Loss During the Pandemic

NYU Abu Dhabi students reflect on online classes, changing friendships and how the pandemic has affected their outlook on gratitude, education and relationships.

Mar 28, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly turned the world upside down. Even those who did not fall ill themselves may experience anxiety surrounding the virus. The uncertainty caused by travel restrictions and lockdowns also makes it more difficult to make tangible plans for the future. University students, in particular, are uniquely affected by the pandemic. Research conducted in late 2020 demonstrated that the changes which the pandemic introduced into students’ lives include delayed graduation, limited internship and career development opportunities and drastic changes in work habits and academic productivity. With these factors in mind, what does the NYU Abu Dhabi community have to say about the impact of the pandemic on their lives as students?
The shift to online instruction posed a challenge for many students, partially because of the less engaging nature of Zoom lectures compared to in-person classes. Online instruction was already beginning to be strenuous in the Fall 2020 semester, but there was still a sense of novelty at the beginning. Now, engagement with classes seems to be at a low, as Zoom fatigue and distractedness take over.
“99 percent of [the students] have their cameras off, so you're just watching a video and it's so hard to focus,” said Pedro Velasquez Duque, Class of 2023. “My whole university life wasn't entirely about just understanding. It was about staying engaged.”
Aathma Dious, Class of 2021, pointed out that our generation is often seen as being well-versed with technology and tends to spend a lot of time using mobile devices. However, this did not compensate for the oversaturation of technology that online classes can lead to.
“Yes, we’re supposed to be familiar with it, but, at the same time, it’s unfamiliar to do everything online because we had a sort of decent balance before that,” she said.
In addition to Zoom fatigue, some students who went back home in Spring of 2020 had a difficult experience with time zones. “I was doing classes in person with a nine hour time difference, I was also having to balance the time with my family, [and] friends,” Velasquez said.
Online classes are not only difficult for many students in terms of focus and productivity, but in terms of isolation as well.
“The friends that I had when the pandemic started, [they] were on campus and I was off, [so] I felt this gap growing between us,” said Maitha Rashed, Class of 2023.
“It’s still there, the friendship, but it’s just not what it used to be.” Dious said, when asked about how her relationships had been affected by the pandemic.
While the prevalence of lost friendships can be present in upperclassmen and other returning students, it was illuminating to talk to first-years about their experiences with the pandemic taking over their first year at university. David Hồ, Class of 2024, mentioned that he felt disconnected from other members of his class, having not yet spent a single semester on campus. First-years also face the unique challenge of never having had an in-person university class before.
“I am not sure how I will get used to in-person classes in university because my whole university experience is online,” said Bernadett Kis, Class of 2024, who is on campus this semester.
Isolation and feeling overwhelmed by academics can exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues and lead to new ones.
However, many students described some of the pandemic’s silver linings. Lindy Luo, Class of 2024, admitted that she felt like she was losing one of her young years, but ended up with a changed perspective. “I feel like the pandemic has made me more responsible and cherish the life that I have with my parents, friends,” she concluded.
“Although I lost one year of my campus experience, I am optimistic and looking forward to the two years that are left,” explained Rashed.
Some students found a way to combine academics with the preservation of friendships through typically solitary activities. “I usually studied on my own, but, over the past year, it's definitely become more of a group activity, if not just to keep each other focused and on-task,” mentioned Velasquez.
There is no use in denying that the pandemic has been difficult for the majority of people, university students included. Whether due to grief, illness, anxiety, loneliness, or feeling overwhelmed, it has not been an easy year for many. However, even in the midst of a difficult time, periods of happiness, accomplishment and pride can be found. These moments should be celebrated now more than ever. I am tired of motivational slogans and being told to stay strong and resilient in a time when resilience is often the last thing I find myself capable of. Hence, I wanted to end this article by saying that it is all right to feel sad, a little helpless or out of control. Nobody has to be strong every minute of every day — that’s unrealistic. Considering the concerns my fellow students have voiced, as well as the difficulties other peers may be facing, I believe the best mindset to have is to be kind to oneself and others.
Morgane Motlik is Deputy Copy Chief and Philosophy columnist. Email her at
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