A Student’s Quarantine Diary

This fictional quarantine diary will shed light on the everyday life of an imaginary student during an exceptional spring. Miikael Saksman from JYY looks at the support and services offered to students and ponders how they met with the worries highlighted by the student corona survey.

16.3. I feel somehow empty and numb, the government announced a state of emergency, what does it mean for the Uni to be closed? For how long? How about my studies? How do I get books from the library?

Feels like the whole society is screwed up, everyone’s hoarding toilet rolls, thankfully I bought some last week. How to deal with being alone and socially isolated? I can’t unwind chilling with my friends.

I remember how we spent the morning of 12 March planning the JYY annual festivities and the afternoon watching the government press conference while discussing postponing the same event. On Friday 13 March, we had one of the most interesting meetings. The meeting appeared in the calendar as “corona meeting”. In that meeting we thought about switching to remote work.

When the state of emergency was entered, we at the JYY office decided not to get paralysed, but roll our sleeves instead and start collaborating with the community to make students’ lives easier. The state of emergency came as a total surprise to me. I wasn’t too worried about my own studies, but I worried about the health and wellbeing of both myself and those close to me.

19.3. Righto, JYY fired a corona survey into our inboxes. Nice that they want to know how we’re doing. I offload big time: library, solitude, devices. I wonder how to keep studying and getting credits as some of my courses have been cancelled.

In spring, JYY must’ve been the first one in the HE field to fire a shot in the corona survey game. It’s worth blowing our own trumpet as this was pitch perfect. That form gave students the chance to express their worries and it allowed us to get an overview of what worried them. We relayed this to the University to raise awareness and so that they could do their part in sorting things out. Looking back, I think we should be proud of the way we managed to solve almost all the major problems highlighted by the survey.

21.3. Distance learning is weird. I spend the days at the dining table and the evenings on the sofa and the walls are starting to close in. At least there’s no curfew, yet. At home, it’s more difficult to focus. I keep doing other things during the lectures I’m supposed to attend (today I cleaned the oven).

The library is open again, but of course you can’t check out books or stay there to study or use the computers. It’s much easier to focus in there and get stuff done, but there’s little the Uni can do about this. At least I can order what I need and pick the stuff up from the library, so I can keep studying somewhat normally, but it’s weird to have to know what you need beforehand instead of just browsing.

Distance learning skills were a massive thing in our corona survey results, and we relayed this to the University. In later surveys, the Student Union has focused on distance learning and teaching.

26.3. Semma Delivery is the best, and thankfully Kela now lets you buy two meals at a time. Matti has a cold, and I can help him.

One helpful thing was Kela’s flexibility over meal subsidies. Students could, say, buy two meals and use their friends’ cards to buy two meals. I guess this and the Semma Delivery made it a lot easier for many students, or at least it helped me.

The spring made me understand the power of communities and the way we took care of one another. In my view, the relationship between the University management and JYY got even closer. Personally, I was in much closer contact with Professor Laakso, the vice rector responsible for education, than my parents. Good communication was also on display elsewhere. Throughout the spring, JYY heard good things about the way the University communicated on all levels.

The Uni held a corona info, vol. 1. I finally got answers to some of my questions but of course not yet to all of them. Like, how do I get to print things, staring at the screen makes me miss paper. I’m glad the University managers have time to clear some things for the students. These and all the comms from the Uni have helped put up with the uncertainty and been all in all very clear and good. My faculty and department have been brill at talking to us. Even on a course-level, the teachers have done a great job in keeping us in the loop.

As far as I know, no IT support like this was offered for students anywhere else in Finland. Inadequate distance learning equipment was highlighted in the survey. We let the University management know about this and together we found a solution to the problem. Funded by the Uni, JYY handed out one hundred 150€ grants. The University also handed out software licenses for apps like SPSS.

8.4. My IT needs have been met. My vintage laptop has needed upgrading for the past 2.5 years, but I haven’t done it because of money, and I’ve been able to do everything in the library.

The old laptop struggled with Teams and Zoom. Using TIM was also difficult and downloading files gave me additional coffee breaks.

Today I learned that I have a two-month SPSS license. I’m glad the Uni gave me one or I would’ve had to buy it myself. My friends have told me that they have also got their licenses. Some of them have struggled to run it on their laptops.

During the quarantine in spring, people yearned for close contact and this was reflected on the answers to the corona survey. Distance supervision and Student Life services were liked, and I think we should continue to offer and develop these. Anything that makes it easier for students to seek help is useful. They survey revealed widespread insecurity, which is just understandable and human.

17.4. Feeling increasingly insecure, not sure why, but I miss the daily grind that I used to find boring and mind-numbing. I’m finding insecurity easier to put up with now, but I’m still worried about the progression of my studies, getting enough credits, and the summer as I think jobs are gonna be scarce.

There’s a lot more work as it’s all essays now. It’s stressful enough as it is so could’ve done without all the writing. No idea why they did this and it’s just essays after essays. They’re starting to drive me insane.

Many students thought that their workload got heavier in the spring. This probably has to do with study methods and the way the courses were delivered. This was somewhat worrying, but I assume it had to do with the difficulties encountered in spring, regarding for example the market for summer jobs. But I’m glad that the courses were delivered and my studies progressed. Of course, some students dropped out of courses because it got too heavy.

18.4. I have my summer job, which is a relief. But it’s in catering so who knows how much work there’s gonna be. Thank you, Student Life. They’ve done a good job with my wellbeing. I want distance services in the future too.

On May Day, and at other times too, associations have organised online events that have helped people a lot. For myself, the distance chilling sessions courtesy of the student unions offered a weekly respite and a space to offload.

May Day. Distance festivities FTW. The association had a couple of nice events and hanging out online with friends and some other students have helped me throughout the spring. It’s nice to offload with people who understand the situation. I also liked playing games online with friends. And online coffee breaks have been bliss.

What will change? What is the famous “new normal” at the University of Jyväskylä when it comes to teaching? I have thought about this on autumn evenings. The chances to study online have increased and that’s good. Recordings make it easy to revisit the most difficult parts of lectures and to study while living outside Jyväskylä. I hope this resumes once corona has been done away with. I hope the online courses created during the spring will remain an option in the future.

What I want to say next is THANK YOU! Thank you for your effort to make the life of students easier and the support you provided. Honestly, I am surprised by how smoothly we got through the spring and the agility with which we started the distance teaching. Thanks again for that.

To conclude, what a year! We have grown up a lot regarding HE politics, learned new ways of working, and kept the flag flying.

Miikael Saksman
Member of the board, The Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä (JYY)
HE politics & tutoring

(photo: Aleksi Murtojärvi)