It’s been a few months since last year’s seniors virtually celebrated the end to a very strange and challenging year. And, unfortunately, things haven’t much easier for the Class of 2020. Whether they chose to start university or take a gap year, nothing has been as expected.

We reached out to a handful of recent graduates to find out what life has been like the last few months. This is the first of a series of Q&A’s.

Salaar Mir, 18, is studying Computer Science at the University of Nottingham and has recently returned to Bucharest to continue learning online.

Q: What was your original plan for the first year out of school? How has this changed since the COVID-19 outbreak?

A: I always planned to go to university in the UK, so COVID-19 didn’t really change my plan. It did make it much harder because basically everything is online and my first year at uni is very different to how it should be. At one point I considered a gap year because I thought it could be a cool experience to work and travel. After Covid I wanted that less because now it is so hard to travel or really do anything.

Q: What were you looking forward to this year that has been canceled or negatively impacted by the pandemic?

A: We missed out on things like graduation and the senior trip, where we had planned to go to Spain. Then with uni, we missed out on ‘Freshers Week’ which is the week before uni starts, where you party and get to meet lots of people. This year it was very limited because there was a restriction of how many people could attend events. Things like clubs were obviously closed so it was difficult to get into the uni life.

I’ve been able to make some friends from my residential building because we see each other everyday; some of them are even doing the same course as me. Other than that I haven’t been able to meet many other people because everything is online.

Q: What have you found most difficult over the past few months?

A: My course has been a bit more difficult because it’s all online. This has made it challenging to talk to my professors and ask them questions. You can message them or have a one-on-one Zoom, but I find it very different to meeting in person. Another obstacle for me has been meeting people because of the restrictions.

I also had to quarantine for 10 days in my room because I tested positive for COVID-19. So I have been spending lots of time in my room and it has really helped me to Facetime friends from AISB. I had a few symptoms, like a runny nose, slight cough and I lost my sense of smell and a bit of my taste, but now I am completely well and out of quarantine.

Q: What are the current restrictions in the UK and at your university? How has this affected your university classes?

A: Due to the lockdown that was originally imposed in early November, I had to return back to Romania for a few months. I didn’t want to risk getting trapped in England over New Years. However, I do plan on returning in January—assuming the lockdown gets lifted by then. 

Previously, when I was staying in my dorm, we were arranged into “households”of five or six people. We could only go to the cafeteria in our households during an allocated time. In the city, everything closes at 10pm, like restaurants and pubs, and the common rooms in my building. Also you can only be in groups of six or less in public. These restrictions make socialising a bit difficult. 

The majority of my classes and lectures were online even when I was living on campus. Occasionally, about once every week or two,  I would have a practical lab. And now that I have decided to come back to Romania I am doing everything online. I don’t think it’s really the best experience doing everything online, missing out on in-person classes and the social aspect of university.

Q: What are your expectations for 2021? What kinds of challenges do you foresee?

A: I think that, at least in early 2021, we will continue to have an environment like it is now, with the pandemic. But I think that later in the year things could start to improve. Hopefully things will improve quickly, but by how things are going right now I’m not too sure how soon things will actually get better.

Irina Ciobanu-Cociasu, 19, is studying Product Design at Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan, online from Romania.

Q: What influenced you to choose this university? 

A: I actually changed the university that I wanted to go to over the summer. The pandemic made me realize that I want to change professions, from an architect to a product designer, and that resulted in me changing my university. 

Q: Are you currently on campus or learning from home? If on campus are your classes online or in person classes?

A: For my course, the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) decided that the first semester would be online, and the second starting in March. We are doing all the theoretical work during this time, so that when we come on campus we are ready to create. 

Q: What is your opinion on the way the IB decided to assess final grades?

A: Personally, I am happy with how the IB assessed our grades because I got a point higher than my predicted. At the same time I believe that if we would have had our exams my grade would have been higher, and I also have friends who have been affected by the way the IB assessed their grades negatively. 

Q: How has the pandemic affected your university experience?

A: The pandemic affected my university experience a lot, mostly because I have to study from home the first semester, meaning that I will not meet my classmates until March. But I have come to terms with this and I am trying to enjoy my first university semester from home. 

Q: What advice would you give current DP students?

A: My advice is to try and have a balanced life. Yes, grades are important and you need to study, but extra curricular activities and going out with your friends are too. Find a program that works for you and stick to it. By the end of 12th grade you will be proud of all the work you have put in.

Mike Sabbagh, 19, is currently on campus at Rotterdam School of Applied Science in Amsterdam, studying Business Management.

Q: What influenced you to choose this university?

A: I chose Rotterdam School of Applied Sciences because it provided me with the appropriate business management courses while being relatively low cost and still being close to my home country of Romania.

Q: Are you currently on campus or learning from home?

A: I am in Rotterdam near my university, but only two classes are offline while the rest are online, however this may change with stricter corona regulations.

Q: What is your opinion on the way the IB decided to assess final grades?

A: Despite the controversies, I think the second remark of the grades was the most appropriate since many people were relying on the exams to improve their grades; however, I was lucky in my opinion that I had no exams.

Q: How has the pandemic affected your university experience?

A: Apart from the educational drawbacks of having the course online, the only real negative is the lack of social interaction at school.

Q: What advice would you give current DP students?

A: I would tell them to study as if there was no corona. Since it is always changing our lives you never know what could happen and the more you study the higher chances of having better grades and getting into whatever university you want to.

Thank you to Salaar, Irina, and Mike for sending in pictures and answering our questions. We wish you the best of luck and hope next year is as close to “normal” as possible. Stay tuned for our next installment of “Class of 2020: Where are they now?” next week.