Nfld. & Labrador

'It's been really stressful': MUN students wrapping up a semester unlike any other

Final assignments are being completed and graded at Memorial University, where nothing has been routine since January.
International student Apoorv Singh says given the COVID-19 news coming from North America, his parents in India are calling him daily to make sure he’s OK. (Submitted by Apoorv Singh)

Final assignments and grading are underway for Memorial University's winter 2020 semester, bringing an end to a session where disruptions have been the norm. 

First, a massive blizzard and a state of emergency shut things down in January for eight days.

In March, MUN classes were moved online when the COVID-19 pandemic hit last month. 

For the university's students, the challenges they faced were many and varied. 

CBC News spoke with 15 students of different educational backgrounds about how they've adapted to their new educational realities. 

While some had issues with how certain professors handled the shift, the vast majority of students spoke highly of how things are going, given the unprecedented times everyone is in. 

Dealing with stress 

The most common theme: coping with extra stress. 

"I'm unemployed right now and going through a lot of stuff," said Apoorv Singh, an international student from Delhi, India, who is majoring in computer science. 

Singh followed the request for international students to move off campus and find other living accommodations, for their own safety. He moved out of his residence and into an apartment in mid-March. 

But with these unprecedented times, it's put a lot of things up into the air and it's something that I really have to think about and evaluate.- Alex Mercer 

"I had to miss so many classes. I would say two weeks' worth of classes," he said. "It was really difficult."  

A summer internship in Ontario and a trip home to see his family are now on hold as he looks for work to afford his rent. 

"It's been really stressful here and there," said Singh.  "But we are all just trying to figure it out and see what happens." 

Ashley Sheppard says the switch to online classes was 'a learning curve.' (Submitted by Ashley Sheppard)

Adjusting to home study 

Communications studies major Ashley Sheppard found the switch to online a lot more difficult than she thought it would be, a sentiment that other students echoed. 

"It's certainly been a learning curve," said Sheppard. "The deviation in routine is really affecting my ability to be productive."

Speaking on the phone from his parents' home in Alberta, international relations major Alex Mercer said he has a lot on his plate right now. 

I think professors are definitely having a hard time with this.- Claire Dowden

"I found myself having to make the decision of either staying in Newfoundland or going back with my family here in Alberta," Mercer said. "Flights were becoming rare, becoming more expensive by the day."  

On-campus exams were cancelled across the board, with students instead expected to write online exams, or communicate directly with their professors or instructors. 

Mercer said things have been difficult but he's getting as much done as he can remotely. Meanwhile, there's a tough decision looming: if he doesn't find work this summer, he might not be able to afford to return to school. 

"Obviously I love Newfoundland, I love Memorial University, and I really do want to come back," he said.

Claire Dowden says all things considered she’s doing well and credits having great professors for much of that. (Submitted by Claire Dowden)

"But with these unprecedented times, it's put a lot of things up into the air and it's something that I really have to think about and evaluate." 

According to the registrar's office, roughly 12,000 undergraduate students registered for the winter semester at Memorial. The equivalent of 2,794 courses were dropped this past semester — an increase of just over a thousand from the year before. 

The fact that courses could be dropped up until the end of classes must also be factored in when comparing years and statistics. A decision to drop a course without academic penalty must usually happen weeks earlier. 

In total, 150 students left the university altogether. In the winter semester of 2019, that number was 26. 

Worried about profs' well-being  

With everything going on, students are also thinking about the well-being of their professors. 

Claire Dowden, who in her last semester of a double major in communication studies and English, said she is — all things considered — doing well. She credits much of that to her professors. 

"A lot of my professors have been really easy to get in contact with. And just very accessible to us, and very concerned with meeting our needs," she said. 

But she said not everyone had such a positive experience. Dowden said her younger brother had a professor who was unreachable for a couple of weeks. 

"I think professors are definitely having a hard time with this," she said. 

"They're dealing with the exact same unprecedented circumstances as us. Maybe even more so through the remote delivery of courses." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He works primarily for the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to television and digital programming.