Throughout the year, we’ve been checking in on last year’s graduating seniors, to see what they’ve been up to during this crazy year. For this edition, we interview Omotoyosi Ariyo from Manchester, Kaitlyn Weddle from New Mexico, and Seongjin Kim from Incheon, South Korea.

Omotoyosi Ariyo is currently studying medicine at the University of Manchester.

Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your university experience so far? What can you expect for the rest of the school year?

A: Like with most students, because of the pandemic, many of my lectures and classes have been moved online. However, due to the nature of my course, there are certain sessions (like physical examination practice and dissections) that we have face-to-face once a week. We’re also allowed to use the on-campus study spaces. Since the way my course is taught involves a lot of self-learning and not as many lectures, the pandemic hasn’t changed too much for my course, but the little things that we miss out on (as in, face-to-face classes) feel like so much.

Q: What were the restrictions like this year at your university and in the UK? How did they affect your daily life?

A: For a large part of the year, the UK was in a national lockdown. We couldn’t go out with people outside of our household bubble in groups larger than two, which felt pretty isolating. There was not much chance to properly leave the house, and a lot of us UK students were feeling quite apathetic. We were in the same mess for such a long time to the point where it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. It was exhausting, honestly; but we did our best to pull through.

Q: How have you handled online learning? What have you find challenging (educationally/socially/mentally etc.)? Is there anything that you find easier about online learning?

A: One thing I do like about online learning is the fact that I don’t have to commute. It takes me two hours to get to and from the university since I live at home. Online learning saves a lot of time. That being said, the mental toll it’s taking on us is pretty rough. It’s hard to absorb any material when you’re sitting in the same room, watching the same screen, surrounding by the same four walls for hours on end, every single day. It gets tiring. I regularly take pain killers just to manage the headaches. And as a med student, I need to be processing huge amounts of information on a daily basis. You can’t do that in online school. The information just doesn’t stick when you’ve been staring at a laptop all day.

Q: What have been the most disappointing things that you missed out on as a university freshman because of Covid-19?

A: People. I feel like the most important thing about being a university freshman is meeting likeminded people, and people from your course. I’ve had the privilege of being able to meet other medical students online and face to face (since our course in taught in small classes that rotate every semester) but even that doesn’t feel the same. Seeing someone on a screen isn’t the same as seeing and interacting with them in real life. I never noticed how big of a difference it made until now. It has really made me cherish the few moments I do get to meet my friends and other medical students; those moments are so enriching, and so special, like everyone is breathing a collective sigh of relief at the brief taste of normalcy again.

Kaitlyn Weddle is currently working at a hospital in New Mexico, USA, and will be enlisting in the navy in San Diego later this year.

Q: What have you done since leaving school? Was this your original plan before the pandemic or did Covid-19 affect your year?

A: My plan before Covid-19 was to go to film school in Germany, but I couldn’t get a hold of banks in the US to discuss loans. So my plan changed to going to live with my aunt in the States and then planning to join the Air Force. Then I would see about film school after I finished my service.

I came here after I finished school and I got a job working at a restaurant in a hospital. In the hospital I cooked food for patients and staff. Then I was trying to get into the Air Force, but I had trouble getting in. It took six months to do a process that usually takes two. So I talked to a Navy recruiter and they got me in within two months. And I’m going to be doing a job in the Navy that I am really excited about.

Q: What are the current restrictions in New Mexico and how have they affected your daily life?

A: In New Mexico, there was a long time where restaurants were open to the public. It’s been really difficult to make friends here because there haven’t been any places open where you usually meet people. The only place I could meet people was online and I find that to be quite awkward.

Q: What has been the most disappointing thing that you have missed out on because of Covid-19 in the past year?

A: I’ve missed out on the chance to meet new people and to kickstart a life on my own. I was meant to start a new chapter, and it just doesn’t feel that way. I just feel like I should have started my life on my own by now and the past year I haven’t been able to do that.

Q: What was the process of getting allocated a job in the Navy?

A: To get allocated a job in the Navy I had to go to El Paso and take a physical readiness test, so they check you physically to see if you are healthy, and then another test that looks more at intelligence. So the higher you score on these tests the better the job you get. So I was really happy about my job.

In the Navy I am going to be a sonar technician. So I will be on boats and I’ll use sonar technology to look at what’s below me and scan around the area. It’s kind of strange because I’m actually afraid of the ocean, but only because I usually don’t know what’s underneath me. So my job is actually to know what is underneath me so I think it’s perfect.

Q: How has the Navy been affected by Covid-19?

A: We are meant to go to Navy bootcamp where they train us to be physically fit for the military, how to be on a military schedule and how to start working as a team. This is usually an 8-week process; but now because of Covid-19 it will be a 10 week process, since we will have to quarantine for two weeks at the start. Then, throughout the eight weeks after quarantine if someone in your room has to quarantine for some reason you will have to be separated from the group and self-isolate for two weeks.

Usually whenever you graduate bootcamp there’s a big ceremony where all your parents come and celebrate, but now family isn’t allowed to come visit. So they will just live stream the ceremony, but it’s a bit disappointing that our families won’t be able to be there in-person.  

Q: What do you plan to do after you finish your five years of service in the Navy?

A: I have a few possible ideas of what I might do after I finish. But what I see most likely happening due to the training that I’ll have in the Navy, is being something like an ultrasound technician or MRI technician. Since I will be taking university classes while in the Navy, I would only have to do two extra years of study afterwards to get into any area related to that.

Seongjin Kim is currently in the South Korean Navy and planning to study sciences and engineering at Georgia Tech in 2022.

Commencement ceremony for the 669th generation of the ROKN sailors, Naval Education & Training Command.
Q: What have you done since leaving school? Was this your original plan before the pandemic, or did Covid-19 affect your plans?

A: In South Korea, all able-bodied adult men are obliged to complete our nation’s mandatory military service, and my plan since the start of Grade 12 has been to take a gap year to serve in the military before heading off to college. It was just that I took the path less taken; instead of joining the army as most people do, I joined the ROK Navy.

After enlisting last August, I spent a total of nine weeks at the Naval Education & Training Command. During six grueling weeks of boot camp, I learned everything that a soldier should know, from marching in formations, shooting rifles and CBR trainings, to abandoning ship and rowing an IBS. An extra three weeks were dedicated to post-specific training, which in my case was learning how to operate radars.

Right now, I’m stationed at a maritime base off the coast of Incheon, working as a radarman.

Q: Can you explain your daily life in the Navy?

A: I’ve been stationed to a floating base belonging to Incheon Naval Sector Defense Command, keeping vigilance over the gateway to our nation’s heartland. During my shifts in front of the radar, I keep watch on everything that passes through our jurisdictional area, with additional duties of making on-board announcements and communicating with other bases.

When I’m off duty, I work on various tasks that are to be done around our base. There are mundane tasks such as dishwashing, sweeping and mopping, but two tasks iconic of sailor’s life are mooring ships and kkangkkangyi. The tensest and the most dangerous task around our base is to moor ships belonging to ROK Navy that come to our base, as mooring cables snapping poses a big safety hazard. On the other hand, kkangkkangyi, as we like to call it, is a less frequent task which involves removing rust that form on our base (redox, ha!). The clanks of hammers can be migraine-inducing, but it sure is fun to hit something with a hammer!

In my free time, I like to review my high school material and hang out with fellow soldiers on our base.

Q: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your time at the Navy?

A: COVID-19 has not stopped the military from running on its due course, as expected. However, many minor adjustments have been made by the military to guard itself against the coronavirus, which included making the commencement ceremony after the end of the boot camp virtual, wearing masks, making CBR trainings gasless, and isolating individual bases.

The most drastic measure taken has been to prohibit all furloughs since last November. Furlough is the most effective way to let soldiers let go of their stress, and needless to say, nobody is very happy with this total ban. Its impact has been more acute for those in our base, whose only way of stepping on the earth was going out on furloughs once in every two months.

Q: What has been the most disappointing thing that you’ve missed out on because of Covid-19 in the past year?

A: In November last year, I was supposed to go out on my first furlough, and I was really excited about it. But then, the number of COVID cases in my home province began to rise, so a day before I was supposed to leave, the Command decided to cancel my furlough amongst many others’.

Furloughs are the supreme joy and light of all soldiers serving in the Korean military, so I was very disappointed.

Q: What are your plans after the navy?

A: I will be discharged from the Navy in April 2022, completing the service of twenty months and marking the end of my gap year. After that, I’ll move to the US to start my freshman year at Georgia Tech, studying sciences and engineering. Hopefully COVID-19 would come to an end by then.

Thanks to Omotoyosi, Kaitlyn, and Seongjin Kim for sending in pictures and answering our questions. We wish you the best of luck in the future; you deserve it!