In the 2020-21 school year, I took on a couple of roles outside of being a student to enrich my educational experiences. Prior to that, despite being actively involved in various extracurricular activities, I was never in a professional setting. Since fall 2020, I have been taking a reduced course load while working part-time for personal and professional development.

My first employment opportunity was through my school – UBC’s Work Learn Program. This program allows current students a chance to apply their knowledge in more practical settings across campus. I work as an Online Project Assistant along with other 11 peers at one of UBC’s Learning Commons, where we solve logistic questions, facilitate workshops, make referrals, and create graphic contents to support UBC student’s academic performance and mental wellbeing. I also work as an undergraduate teaching assistant within my faculty. I support the instructors in course delivery and perform teaching assistant duties including grading and communicating with students.

For me, working part-time has been immensely rewarding. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to expand my comfort zone to become more self aware and reflective. I’m fortunate enough to work with extremely resourceful and kind-hearted supervisors and colleagues, many of whom have become mentors. While taking ownership and responsibility over my work, I’ve expanded my network which has served me well. In fact, networking is the reason why I secured my current positions in the first place. Through cultivating professional skills, I gained confidence and have become more comfortable applying to other jobs.

On average, I work 16-20 hours a week apart from taking courses, volunteering, participating in clubs, and competitions. It can be tiring occasionally, but I do not feel overwhelmed because I truly like what I am doing. Another great thing about working on campus is that your supervisors recognize your responsibility as a student and therefore, your work schedule is very flexible, especially in exam seasons. As for my studies, I still try my very best to achieve excellence by managing my time effectively and being goal oriented. In fact, working while attending school gives me a new sense of purpose, which enhances my school performance.

If I was asked at the beginning of the year: what do you envision 2020 to be like? A global pandemic would certainly be the last thing to come to mind. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many plans and goals that I set for the year. When the first lockdown in March 2020 was announced, I became very anxious and faced many uncertainties about accommodation, food, and my overall safety in BC.

As an international student, I am still learning the ropes and getting acquainted with the whole system which was different from that of Nigeria. Summer 2020 was my first summer in BC and I had planned to explore different parts of the province and build memorable experiences with friends.

Instead, I had to stay indoors and constantly think of ways to stay entertained. In a bid to avoid boredom, I started baking and cooking more while trying out new recipes. But a pitfall with staying indoors was that I was unable to connect with my friends and community in BC. On my birthday, which was in June, I was unable to celebrate how I wanted to and with those dear to me.

The pandemic made me realize that having a community around you makes a difference in the quality of your life. So, I became more intentional about calling and reaching out to my friends and family in BC and back home in Nigeria. Those conversations, laughter, smiles shared, and sighs heaved, acted as a reminder that I was not alone, and physical distance did not separate me from my support system.

The transition from in-person classes to remote learning was also a challenging adjustment for me. I consider myself a motivated person when it comes to studying and being a high achiever in my academics. However, I found myself unmotivated on most days and with low enthusiasm to show up for my virtual classes. I miss learning with people and engaging in discussions with other course mates. I also miss studying and preparing for tests and exams with my study buddies in person. Having done two semesters online now, I have devised schedules that help me stay productive, found accountability partners and organized Zoom study sessions with my friends. With all these changes, I am still learning and growing every day. On the bright side, the pandemic has taught me the importance of being open minded, learning to adapt, and doing so creatively. Even though I felt anxious and burdened with uncertainties, I was able to remain proactive and stay connected to others.

Navigating COVID-19 has been challenging for us all, and being an international student has come with its own set of challenges. While many Canadian students are far from home during this pandemic, they don’t have to deal with the uncertainty of an international border crossing when deciding whether to return home. I fretted for months about venturing back to the United States to see my loved ones, not only over safety concerns, but also whether I’d eventually be allowed back into Canada.

Additionally, domestic students tend to have more of a support network by virtue of being in their home country. Thankfully, UNBC’s International Student Office has proven responsive and helpful in assisting me with a multitude of matters since the pandemic started. My studies have certainly been impacted by COVID, but fortunately I have been able to stay largely on track. As a graduate student, I only had two classes in spring 2020 that needed to be completed remotely when things shut down in mid-March. With my coursework now complete, my work these days revolves around my thesis research with the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation on conservation planning in their territory.

I can occasionally meet in person with employees of Chu Cho Environmental, the Nation’s consulting firm, which has undoubtedly enhanced my work. However, I had hoped to visit the Tsay Keh community over the summer but have yet to do so out of caution. On a more personal level, I was fortunate to form friendships pre-COVID that have helped see me through a dismal 2020. Rachelle, my first friend in Prince George, was my lone social contact through those first couple months of uncertainty. We would meet up for late afternoon walks around the neighbourhood, tea in hand, to cap off our solitary days with some fresh air and exercise.

As restrictions eased a bit and tourism within the province was encouraged, I explored various corners of northern BC with members of my “safe six”: the Berg Lake Trail at Mount Robson with Ella; Stuart Lake, Mount Pope, and the Fort St. James National Historic Site with Cale; and the Great Northern Circle Route with Megan and Rachelle. While I sometimes feel that COVID-19 has cheated me out of the full grad school experience, I’m able to take pride in trying to make the most out of a terrible situation.

Everything has been so unreal ever since the COVID-19 pandemic started. As someone whose home city is Wuhan, China, I went through an emotional rollercoaster in early February 2020: constantly checking the number of cases, learning from social media how situations were developing, and worrying about families and friends back home.

I continued to attend in-person lectures until UBC announced the transition to online lectures in mid-March. Most students, including myself, were relieved by this change in course delivery because it no longer seemed safe to physically attend a 200-person lecture. My workload did not necessarily become lighter because instructors strived to deliver as much quality content as possible which I was grateful for, despite some technological issues.

Grocery shopping back in April was kind of crazy. Since we were not sure how strict COVID restrictions might become, every time I went shopping, I would hoard up as much stuff as possible. Though I was thankful to be able to purchase the things that I needed, it was a scary time wandering in between half-empty aisles feeling uncertain about where things might lead me. I stopped going to restaurants and switched to preparing meals by myself, and had lots of fun with discovering new recipes and a healthier diet. No longer able to access music rooms, I bought myself a digital piano. I also visited local trails and quiet beaches where there were no other people and I could connect with nature. Summer 2020 was not a summer for travelling, but having a few outdoor places to myself where I could temporarily escape my apartment was a privilege.

I started my third year completely online in September 2020 and, despite having mixed feelings at the start, I soon adapted to the online format and found myself learning at a comfortable pace. While it has been more than a year and a half since I last saw my family, 2020 was a year for me to mature mentally.