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“What I’m really looking forward to is hanging out!”

We’re interviewing our students about their experience of the past COVID year. Here, we speak to Afrin Hossain about her year
Afrin Hossain stood by a wall with trees in the background
Afrin Hossain, Photo credit Matti Ahlgren

What do you study and why?

I’m a third-year student, and I have just started my masters in applied mathematics. I picked it because, like most people that come to applied physics and mathematics, they don’t want to choose a specific thing, and they just go for it, and I’m like that too. I didn’t know what to pick and maths and physics were the areas I was good at. I like the little euphoria you get when you’ve been alone in a room with a pen and a paper and you finally get a proof.

How has the last year been?

The last year has been kind of a… well it’s been the worst year of my university life. I’ve been active in my guild, freshman year was great, I loved getting involved in Vappu. I also took part in the wellbeing committee of our guild, where I did lots of events like organizing puzzle nights, pajama parties, and other fun, casual events that I really liked. In my second year, I also met the Aamu squad (Aalto muslim student association), because we’re such a small tight community, like there’s so few of us the friendship we have is with everybody. For me, the first two years of university were amazing, all the events we did were really fun.

It’s been tough, and the first few months of the corona situation I was really cranky the whole time. I live quite far away from Otaniemi so if people have met up in small groups, I can’t really commute to meet in a small group as it would defeat the point of social distancing. I’ve been relying on Zoom; I feel like I’ve definitely used my share of Aalto’s Zoom server to the max! I feel like for me, coping has been helped by going outside and going on walks. The way I help is I try and talk to my friends: I’ve given myself a quota that I have to fulfil every day. I have to talk to 2 people every day who don’t live in my house with me. That’s what’s keeping me going and I hope it’s helping the other people I’m speaking to as well.

Virtual events haven’t been much of a success with either the guild and Aamu, we haven’t had many people attend either. With Aamu lots of visiting students will message and ask “when’s your next event?” and we’re like “well, it’s not up to us!” I’m the sort of person who used to be in the guild room every day, every evening, and I feel that over the last year I’ve become a little detached from my guild.  When everything ends, I will get all my friends together and talk. I’m not even much of a hugger but I feel like I want to hug everyone I know! What I’m really looking forward to is just hanging out.

I feel that the covid has made smaller groups that are more tight-knit, and we have the tendency of messaging each other over absolutely nothing. For example, a friend might message “Hey I saw a bird that looked really funky,” and because no one wants to study we’ll all start messaging about that. The one good thing  that I think has come out of all this is that it’s less embarrassing to be like “I am lonely, I need someone to talk to” there’s a lower threshold for that. I am also a tutor for my guild, so I talk to freshmen somewhat, and I feel in many ways, they’ve had it the worst. And they are telling me that for freshmen they’ve been able to bond with each other over a shared feeling of “Hey, this sucks” having the common trauma of having their first year of university in lockdown has really banded them, so I guess there’s that!

How has social-distanced Ramadan been?

With Ramadan there are two aspects, the social aspect and the spiritual aspect. And this year for sure the social side has gone terrible. At least we are able to schedule our lives and studies around the spiritual side of Ramadan – like prayer – instead of the other way round. So at least this year it feels like there’s a bit more control over my time.

What do you predict for the future? 

 I feel like organisations are trying their best to make this virtual thing work – it’s given people a chance to try new things. But in some ways it feels like the university doesn't understand the problems we face all the time. In the pre-corona times one of the most important events was when the professors could take a few students to a lunch or a coffee and ask how is the course going and get feedback. It feels a bit in covid that our ability to give meaningful feedback on courses has gone away a bit

I am more on the side of I prefer contact teaching more, but I know that especially with Masters courses there are fewer students who can come, they might be working or whatever, so it would be smart to have lectures that can be recorded and put online. But for the exercise sessions, you can’t even do “okay” without studying with someone, you need to work with someone. The best thing to do is work with your friends, because for example if your work requires reading a textbook, someone will have understood the first 3 chapters better, and someone else will understand the next 4, or something, and it’s a much more effective way of learning. I’m really looking forward to returning to this.

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