By Ishika Rakshit a first-year student at the University of Portsmouth
In September 2020, my parents and I stood outside at my new university residence, unloading the car, ready to move in. Two other families who were also there, saying goodbye to their children wearing face masks. Only one parent was allowed to enter my flat at a time, whilst maintaining a safe distance from everyone else. I was very nervous about my first day at university and the face masks and the social distancing added to my feelings of unease. However, after finishing unpacking, to ease my nerves, my family and I went off to explore the city.
My first impression of Portsmouth was very refreshing; I found the city to be very beautiful. There is something for everyone. We went to the seafront and although it was a cold day, I could imagine the pleasure of sitting in the sun or strolling along the promenade in the warmer weather. There was a huge shopping centre, Gunwharf Quays, with its various fashion stores and cute cafes. Near to my residence, there were other independent cafes, pubs, nightclubs and supermarkets. To my surprise, I even found food stalls with the seductive smell of coffee and pastries.
During the few months I spent exploring Portsmouth’s quiet streets, the more I wondered how much livelier the city would have been if covid-19 was not present. My university did its best to ensure that everyone was safe whilst being able to socialise and engage with each other as much as possible. Testing sites for both symptomatic and asymptomatic students were available, hand sanitising stations could be found throughout each building with thermometers at each entrance. Rooms were regularly sanitised and there was a one-way path through every university building.
These precautions were especially crucial for students such as me, who are majoring in subjects that cannot be solely taught online. As a biology major, I have had both online classes, as well as face to face classes (lab exams). This blended form of learning was only possible with regularly updated and adapted timetables.
Despite all these safety measurements, the university tried to ensure that first year students were at least able to get a taste of what Freshers week might have looked like. They formed an on-line Freshers week for all first-year students to participate in. The nightclubs, shops and restaurants were also open for the first few weeks for students, until another lockdown and a curfew were introduced. In the first few weeks of university, I was able to take advantage of the nightclubs as very few students were present on the university site. However, as more students started arriving, the restrictions got stricter- to the point that we were not allowed to visit other student residences.
Needless to say, this was not the best year to join university. At the time of writing, I have decided to stay in my hometown of Slough, as our face-to-face classes, including lab sessions, have been cancelled due to the lockdown. So, I can only join online classes. Regardless of all these necessary restrictions, I still have had the chance to enjoy and experience some university life and the charm of Portsmouth. I look forward to returning to the city as soon as possible.