2020 most certainly was not the year any optometrist or optometry student expected. When the global pandemic first rampaged the country, we were in the height of our midterms and had an exam planned for the day school was to close. Since then, a lot of the pandemic was just “unknown.”
When the stay-at-home orders started, and all school and public buildings were closed, I had to make the adjustment to become an at-home student. As someone who loves to study at the library, in order to keep focusing on school and relaxing at home separate, this was a very difficult transition. However, it was a necessary one in order to do well during my spring and summer semesters. This adjustment, along with watching the news on the pandemic across the globe, studying for midterms, not knowing when we would return, or what the course of my curriculum would be like, caused my focus and motivation to decrease and my anxiety to increase.
As I was getting accustomed to studying from home, the professors were also going through their adjustment of moving everything online, and we as students just had to stay patient. In order to help ease the transition to virtual learning, several professors pre-recorded lectures in addition to holding collaborative sessions and online office hours, making sure that they were available to answer questions and help us through difficult material. One of my favorite aspects of the virtual environment was being able to attend an open forum with Dean Trego and faculty every week, where we discussed current events, their impact on our current learning environment, and how to move forward with our curriculum. I greatly appreciated having the chance for my voice to be heard and having such close communication with our administration during an unprecedented time.
Another aspect of virtual learning that required a major adjustment was taking exams online. Taking exams from home created an entirely new level of test anxiety, as being told things like you cannot put your hands on your face or if you look away from the camera you may be flagged was fairly daunting. When I first began taking the exams virtually, I would feel so incredibly nervous beforehand and then feel shaken down after every exam at the prospect that I would be flagged for something and be penalized. Additionally, as I was quarantining at home with my parents and grandparents, I had to adjust to there being other activities happening and background noise around me. Sometimes, they would forget I had an exam, which made me nervous that the Respondus Lockdown Browsers would pick up their conversations and flag me for that as well. This meant that exam time had to become quiet time for the entire household, which made me feel as though I was taking away from my family members’ freedom. However, as time went on and I took more exams, I became increasingly comfortable in the environment and my family worked with my schedule to help me in the best way they could to excel in my exams.
What got me through these semesters was my support system. It was the professors who were willing to take a chance with virtual learning to help us understand the material. It was the Center for Professional and Personal Development who was able to schedule a virtual session with me and help me process the changes I was experiencing. It was being able to Zoom call and stay in touch with my friends and study groups. It was the virtual study sessions where my friends and I were able to work through PowerPoints and even create our own Kahoots to practice and study the material. It was my family who adjusted their schedules to accommodate my exams. It was everyone who helped me learn that while adjusting to new environments takes time, I can still be successful anywhere.
Throughout this global pandemic, I had to do a lot of self-evaluating, make a lot of minor and major adjustments to my lifestyle, and take things one step at a time. However, through all of that, I grew as a student and as a person. I became stronger in the way I handled global news and the idea of the “unknown.” I learned that things will not always go as planned but you learn to adapt and make adjustments as you go. And, most importantly, I learned that you are not in this alone, and, at any point if you need help, you have a support system, even if it may be virtual. I am very grateful for the opportunities Salus University and PCO continue to give us students as we continue to learn and prosper in our careers.
- Ashka is an optometry student at Salus University