“Going out’ means going to the kitchen and putting the strobe lights on”: how uni students are coping in isolation

The Uni experience looks pretty different this year. Students from around the country share how they’re dealing with local lockdowns, the 10pm curfew, self-isolating in halls and the music getting them through this weird time.

From club bangers to study playlists, music and uni are inseparable from one another. A single track can conjure sticky dancefloors, the sickly smell of Jägerbombs or the first time you dropped a pill. But this year is a bit different. The clubs are closed, the pubs close early and, in many cities, even mixing with other households is now banned. The music is still there – we all have a song or two that we’ve played to death throughout lockdown – but this time it’s soundtracking small kitchen gatherings and days spent sitting in your box room instead of freshers paint parties. 

Since students returned to university last month campuses across the country have seen a spike in the number of coronavirus cases. Flats that test positive must self-isolate for two weeks and nearly all learning has been moved online.  “There’s definitely a lingering sense of sadness or regret that comes with wondering why you’re spending all this money to sit in a bedroom all day,” says Daniel, 19, a first year politics student at Exeter University. There’s been widespread outrage from students who, on top of the £9,250 yearly tuition fees for online lectures, are forking out on expensive first year accommodation that many have hardly been able to leave to explore the city, let alone to go on a proper night out. That doesn’t mean the partying has stopped altogether, far from it. Students are just having to be a bit more inventive with how they spend their time, whether that’s crowding round a tiny speaker, flat karaoke or late night swimming in the local pond. 

We spoke to students across the country about uni life in 2020, how they’re feeling, how they’re partying and the music they’re listening to in lockdown. 

Izzy, 20, Manchester

First Year , Medicine

Lockdown at uni has been a completely different experience to what it was like at home and I am much happier here. Before, I only saw my family, but now I am surrounded by people my own age who I have only known for a few weeks. We have all been making the best of our uni experience when we can – drinking in pubs till 10 and going back to flat parties in accommodation. I have had some of the best nights dancing in bedrooms and made friends I never would have made if we had been out clubbing. I have friends that DJ which has been a huge perk, and I have been discovering so much new music. The only perk to the online learning has been not having to get out of bed as early for lectures! I do wish we had more practicals in my course as even our dissection room time has been reduced to only half an hour a week which is nowhere near enough.

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘1 Thing’ by Amerie (Irvani Bootleg), a Soundcloud remix that one of my friends plays regularly and is great for a boogie!

Vivian, 19, Sheffield

Second Year, Journalism

I feel like I am missing out on the university experience. Although I am in second year, I was looking forward to starting this year with the same enthusiasm as I had in first year. I had the best time in my first year. I partied, made so many new friends, and I would never trade last year’s experience for anything! I truly cannot imagine how horribly first years now are experiencing their university lockdown. I have an amazing support system. I’m living with my friends and we are all making the best out of what we are allowed to. We stay in our pyjamas all day and watch movies. I never thought I’d be excited to go to Tesco as it’s one of the few times we go out! But, I am still happy and grateful. Virtual lessons are not great. They’ve become like a background sound for scrolling on social media. There are technical difficulties where sometimes someone starts sounding like a robot. I study journalism which is a practical degree. I’m used to going out there and getting the work done. Staying inside and listening to lectures on a screen does not help my concentration and I easily get distracted. However, we are all doing what we can to keep ourselves safe. 

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘ROCKSTAR’ – Dababy feat. Roddy Ricch because this song was always on my mind as I’ve used TikTok a lot during lockdown.

Alex, 19, Salford

Second Year, Television and Radio

A few weeks ago I visited my girlfriend in halls at Sheffield Uni for a few days and we ended up getting COVID so me and the flat I was staying in had to isolate for 14 days. At first I was annoyed because I had just come out of another isolation back in Manchester and it felt like an endless cycle of being locked inside, however I eventually got over it and me and my girlfriend just watched Netflix and ordered from Deliveroo about three times a day so it wasn’t that bad. At the beginning of the lockdown I hadn’t met the other flatmates before as I hadn’t lived there but, by the time I went home I was sad to leave them because I felt so settled in. We usually ended up just getting really drunk together in the kitchen. We did have a party which was really fun and one night we did some oil panting so there was definitely a range of activities we got up to. On the work side of things I definitely slacked a little because I was ill for the first week and it sort of killed all the motivation I had, but my lecturers were incredibly supportive throughout the lockdown. I wouldn’t say we got up to anything too crazy because we were all ill but one night at about 2am we decided to go for a swim in a giant pond in the accommodation because we were so bored of being inside, and it was definitely an experience. 

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘Where is my Mind?’ by the Pixies because I would listen to it every time that I climbed out of our bedroom window to have a cigarette. It just felt like a very fitting song at the time.

Max, 20, Durham

First Year, Anthropology

I feel like I’ve been missing out on the ‘uni experience’ considerably. It’s frustrating not being able to meet freshers outside my household so I have not been able to meet many new first years so far, though I hope this will change somewhat across the next few weeks. I feel like I’m meant to be here at university. I’ve been looking forward to it for years. We’ve been playing cards and drinking games and going a bit crazy. Our main table has been mistreated beyond relief after all the drinking and dancing! We have a playlist of classic anthems and pop punk hits – ‘Mr Brightside’, Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way’ – that we play to dance drunkenly, do karaoke, eat takeaways, down beer and wine and play card games like Irish snap and Shithead. Then there’s the virtual lessons *forced sigh*… They’re often accompanied by awkward technical issues. I usually watch them on my own time and put them on double speed so a one-hour lecture becomes 30 minutes! I wish we could meet face to face and socialise more. I was looking forward to coming to uni and maybe joining a band or going to alt rock and punk gigs with others. As I sit here writing this in self-isolation, I’m listening to Pixies. Spotify has been a good help in finding new music after years of listening to the same old stuff! I’ve been listening to songs like Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid.’ The lyrics really resonated with me: “all day long I sit and wait, but nothing seems to satisfy!” 

The tracks that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘Supersonic’ by Oasis because this was one of the first songs I started listening to after being forced to come home from travelling and at the start of lockdown. It has a bittersweet quality that gives me a sense that 2020 wasn’t the year it should have been for many of us and yet we go on. Another song is ‘Debaser’ by the Pixies because it has felt quite pertinent at the moment during self-isolation in my halls. It’s an energetic song with a frustration and restlessness to it. It reflects my desire to get more involved in university life and meet new people but being restricted.

Homer, 19, BIMM Manchester

First Year, Electronic Music Production

I think this year many people will not be happy with how uni is being dealt with due to it being online and all that jazz, but I find that I’m still able to really enjoy what I’m learning as it is something I really like. However, the old COVID – which I have already had, which was not pleasant – makes it a bit tricky for freshers, as obviously there are no clubs and pubs at our 24 hour disposal, which often results in us heading back to a mates flat at 10pm crowding around a small speaker. But luckily there have been a few flat parties which have been a bit crazy, which have made up for it. Isolating can be very dull which is why I chose to isolate with a friend which had some serious challenges, like fitting a double blow mattress in a space probably best suited for a small child. Nonetheless, I’m having an absolutely awesome time at uni so far, and just hope that I will be able to get home for Christmas, otherwise the only presents I’ll probably get is a can of K-Cider and a meal deal from Sainsbury’s.

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘Love that Never’ – IMANU Remix, as it has been played at a few parties and when we went to Pirate Studios and that tune popped off.

James, 19, Exeter

First Year, Maths

There have been lots of interesting experiences so far, but none of the big events I had been expecting before corona. Our house just got out of our two-week lockdown, which had been driving me completely insane; it’s so good to be able to explore the city again. I’m hoping to also meet more people, as I feel I haven’t made that many friends yet. I certainly have had fun with some of my housemates, thoughI remember less of them than I should like. No shagging for me; I’m asexual, but there have been some nice intimate moments, nonetheless. There haven’t been any parties in our house since we got told off by our landlord: I had to hide a friend (now girlfriend) who’d stayed the night in my cupboard! As for the teaching, everyone is doing their best, but I’m learning very little from it. I mostly just try and follow the lecture notes.

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘Endless Memory’ by The Lightning Year because it always relaxes me and flows nicely.

Charlie, 19, Manchester

First Year, Management with Marketing

The start to uni has been an interesting one. I haven’t liked to think about what I’m missing out on as there isn’t much we can do about the situation. There’s definitely a part of me that would’ve liked to have had a ‘proper’ freshers’ week with student nights out and everything even though they would probably be quite cringe. I settled in pretty quickly and now have a good group of mates who I’m close with, even though I’ve only known them for four weeks. Partying is obviously quite limited and I think the pandemic has put people off sleeping with each other. The main ways of partying are pretty much going to the pub at a stupidly early time due to the curfew and heading back to the student campus in Fallowfield and walking around trying to find flat parties. In the first couple weeks we would be walking around the place at 1am and there would be crowds and crowds of people outside flats. Sometimes someone would have a big portable speaker so there’d just end up being a crowd of people partying. I’m finding it quite difficult with all my learning being online. Having to eat, sleep and work in the same room really doesn’t feel great and it’s leading to heavy procrastination. 

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘LK’ by DJ Marky & XRS ft. Stamina MC because this song always seems to be played at parties and pre drinks so has grown on me massively since I’ve been at university. 

Hannah, 19, Exeter 

First Year, Philosophy

The uni experience so far has been really weird and it can be hard at times.  Do I feel like I am missing out on the uni experience? Yes, I think we all are. It’s not a typical uni experience at all but it’s obviously very unique and I still feel like I’m at uni.  But some things never change – last night I was up till 5.30 am (having woken up at 2pm) in an attempt to write a history essay.  Safe to say it’s still not done. I ended up writing lyrics and eating half a box of Weetabix. This morning my alarm was a call from Track and Trace to check how the isolating is going. I’m self-isolating as a few of my flatmates are positive. There’s 11 of us so it’s not that bad as there’s always someone to talk to in the kitchen. Party wise the pre is the pre, the party is the pre, the afters is the pre. Going ‘out out’ is going into the kitchen, having a drink and putting the strobe lights on, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  The saying ‘don’t shit where you eat’ is being respected – I think that could be too much considering we literally cannot leave the flat.  Virtual lessons are fine. It helps that you can be in a seminar not having left your bed.  It will be good when they are all in real life again though because it’s hard to be as engaged.  

The track that will most remind me of this weird time: ‘Quarantine Speech’ by Lady Leshurr, because it really literally reminds me of now.

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