Navigating Life as a Commuting Student
I’m sure I won’t be the only person to talk about how bizarre this year has been. From moving out of halls early last summer to the desk-bound isolation that followed, to say that this academic year started off with a dodgy wheel would be an understatement. The whole frame might as well have come off. But, now over a month into what will be my final year at the University of Derby, I can honestly say that this has been the most transformative start I’ve had.
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As the title has undoubtedly given away, I made the decision to commute this year. This is after three years at undergrad living in student accommodation – Sir Peter Hilton Court for two years and Peak Court for my third. Before my words get twisted, this is not because of any ill-experience while living in halls. Most of my fondest memories of undergrad are 3am moments in our cramped first-year kitchen or leaving coloured tinsel above our doors even though Christmas ended about four months prior.
Weighing up pros and cons, I made the decision for a number of reasons which have led me to situation I’m in now. This year, my course decided to only teach one class per week on-campus and I’m sure that extends across the majority of the university. Instead of paying admittedly reasonable rent charges in halls, I am fortunate enough to pay less rent at home with my folks and I found that a single train ticket per week wouldn’t break the bank. I had the opportunity to, live at home after three years of independence and embark on the toughest stage of my education yet. It’s been a tough start.
The MA Publishing induction week came and went with as much speed as I anticipated. The days have definitely gotten shorter since March of last year – perhaps that’s another side effect that hasn’t been listed yet – and our online introductions felt brief as ever.
Something about printing my own module handbooks felt like such a big deal when in reality it really wasn’t.
One highlight for me was the first socially distanced Fresher’s Fair. As a new commuter, I booked two nights at a Derby Premier Inn and had the opportunity to host a stall for the Phantom Paper on both days. Although I had to rely on two hours’ worth of trains to get there, the event gave me a refresher of student life that I feel a lot of students missed out on – especially those of us that had it cut short at the end of last year.
Everything seemed to bode well for this term’s learning opportunities. My journeys had run surprisingly smoothly and the new ticket system for Midlands railways meant that the carriages were emptier than I had ever seen. The dreaded online lectures were upon us, but I found that my lecturers had done a lot to prepare for the new digital environment and our class feels strikingly close considering how little we physically see each other. That said, the novelty of dressing gown attire and in-bed learning soon wore off on me. Now I find myself dressing more formally now than I did at undergrad just to get into the right mindset.
Everything was going remarkably well.
Then, the tier system came in.
New government guidance advised against the use of public transport through specific counties unless absolutely necessary. This included areas that I would travel through to get to my Derby destination and there were rumblings of a tier increase in the Nottingham area. As someone who works in close contact with a number of vulnerable people, each trip to my weekly class felt like I was rolling the dice at putting those people at risk – all for the sake of a discussion or live feedback. Both of those are important aspects of the course, ones I am now missing immensely, but not more so than the safety of my colleagues and my family.
As of writing this, I am relying on course resources and the lecture recordings to keep on track of my assignments. Luckily, I am someone well versed in technology so meeting with my lecturers on Teams and exchanging emails hasn’t been too daunting a task – but I fear that may not be the case for everyone. We’re all making do with what we have; it’s important to make sure we all have the same chance at success.
Written by Head of The Phantom Paper: Owen Corkin