We’re continuing this term to feature students and staff who contributed to the University’s COVID response - hearing about their experiences of the pandemic, and what they plan to take away from the last two years. This time we chat to Chimdi Okpalauko, a second-year Theology and Religion student at Pembroke College.
“I started at Oxford in October 2020, in technically what was still the pandemic. Even though I’m in my second year now I still feel as though I’m a fresher; in terms of not really knowing where the faculty building was until Michaelmas of my second year or knowing which libraries to get books from. That learning experience you usually have as a fresher, I’m having now and having to juggle that as a second year with a second year’s workload.
“I'm really proud of the community that we were able to maintain at Pembroke. My college is really great at facilitating and putting us into bubbles, closer together. I think the community experience we all had really varied depending on where in the world you were, whether you were in University grounds or at home. But the one thing that really helped us all connect and have that sense of community was technology and using social media. That kept me sane during the pandemic, being able to FaceTime one another, study with each other using Teams or Zoom, to continue that interaction. I think that's one thing that sustained most of us, being able to have technology to really facilitate conversations and growing together.
“I think in terms of cultural connections during the pandemic, it was quite interesting. Especially with Black Lives Matter that happened during lockdown, it was an important period to kind of press pause and reset on what even cultural connection is. I think it was great for all of us to take a step back, re-evaluate and reset, and actually realise that our culture identity is individual, but that individuality is what makes it so special. Being able to bring our individual experiences to the table and be joined together through that and explore these individual experiences.
Keeping on going
“One thing that I'm proud of achieving, which I guess is underestimated, is being able to keep going with my academics, with my athletics, and with my commitments to societies. In my first year I was on the junior committee of the African and Caribbean Society (ACS). I was also on the Blues performance programme for athletics as well as balancing the first year of my degree and work towards my preliminary examinations. I think being able to not put my life on pause and still push through what was a really difficult time, I'm quite proud of.
“I think in the future I’ll see that the pandemic has really shaped who I am and the way I view life and education. Because this is the university experience I've had, I think looking back in ten years’ time I'll be able to say that actually I had a unique experience, and I was able to make the best out of it. And one day I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about what it was like to start university in a pandemic, and how we then eventually come out of it.”