In the second student blog of our series on “The Impact of COVID-19 on Kent and Medway”, Omo Akhakielen, a first year studying International Relations at CCCU reflects on his experiences:

Just like scenes from apocalypse movies such as World War Z, Contagious and The Walking Dead, things have become different. Our World has changed forever. People have become scared and frightened by their environment.

As a first-year student, studying International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University, I can confidently say that my life has changed since the pandemic.  The joy of socializing with course mates/new friends and being able to meet with lecturers’ face to face came to a short end on 23rd March 2020, when my university announced that they would follow  Government policy and cease all ‘face to face’ contact. It was just a few minutes after my presentation on “Human Trafficking in Eritrea”, when my lecturer broke the news to the class that all ‘face to face’ communication was going to stop and lectures would move online. For someone like me, who was not used to online lectures, I knew from that moment that everything I was once used to was going to change.  Assessments were cancelled for first year students, but it did not entirely make things easier for students, who enjoy working in groups and having ‘face to face’ meetings with Tutors.

Having lived in a friendly and welcoming neighborhood in Ashford for the last 3 years, I can say that a lot has changed since the lockdown.  Once a friendly and lively neighborhood, it has suddenly become quiet like a graveyard. Elderly people who often walk around in the morning visiting neighbors and having a chat, have been told to stay indoors for their safety and that of others. Social life and norms people were once used to have changed completely.  As an NHS community volunteer, I have had first-hand experience, meeting with people, mostly the elderly telling me about how the pandemic has affected their social life and stopping some from visiting relatives. With uncertainty regarding when life will return to normal, it has been incredibly challenging to reassure myself and those around me of what the future holds.

Being a Student Union Officer for international students (Overseas), I have had a few students write to me about how the pandemic has elevated their stress level/anxiety.  Some students who were supposed to return home, to be with their families, were unable to do so as a result of the lockdown. They have been unable to work either nor have a direct access to the university library.  With recommendations from my Lecturers, I was able to share online of some publications for students having difficulties accessing the library and told those who were not already aware of the ‘Big White Wall’ to have a look.

I have gradually felt a lot better since I started exercising much more often than I used to before the lockdown. I created a 4-5 day a week walk termed, #WalkingWithOmo. It has helped reduce my stress level, and I have also encouraged friends and family to participate which has been quite a success for a lot of those that have joined.

Omo Akhakielen is a first year undergraduate student in International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University.