Carson Simon Interviewed by Jane Sawyer
What year were you in and what were you studying when the pandemic was declared in March 2020?
I was in my 2nd year, second semester, majoring in Psych, minoring in History.
What was your personal reaction to hearing the news for the first time that we were officially in a global pandemic and things were being shut down?
I remember being really surprised. I remember being at work and slowly hearing about all the universities closing, and then I got the news from Guelph. I remember being really happy because I thought it would just cancel exams.
Were you involved in any extracurriculars on campus?
I wasn’t, no.
Were you working?
I worked in Hamilton at a Garden Centre.
Where were you living?
I was living off campus downtown.
Did you know of any differences between living downtown and any friends you may have that didn't live downtown?
I knew some friends that lived in the apartment buildings downtown and I think that they just ended up going home due to the extent of just living in such close quarters.
How did the initial shut down affect you? Where did you go? What happened to work, extra-curriculars, your study?
The first 2 weeks there was completely nothing, no school and no work, so I think I went home for a week just to figure out what was going to happen. Week 2 after the shutdown I came back to G
uelph to do school online.
Did you return to school for 20-21?
Yes, I did
What did you do in the summer of 2020?
Worked full time all summer, at the garden center.
I had to run back and forth asking customers what they wanted and then run in to get the products for them as well as having to get wireless pin pads for payment options.
How did you find online learning at the beginning?
I really thought I'd hate it as it felt like the teachers had to transition really quickly and when it went online they weren't really prepared for it and a lot of courses were not designed for it to be done, and I wasn't a very technological person so it was really scary for me when it first went online, because I was the person that liked class discussions and asking questions.
The next year, fall 2020 was definitely better. I was more prepared and I did end up kind of liking it. Our profs dropped the final exams and there were discussions or final assignments instead as well as in some courses the option to take a “pass” grade rather than a number grade for the course. The content was much more about posting lectures and teaching yourself style. I took the P (pass) for 2 classes as they were very difficult to follow online by myself.
Did your experience of online learning change over time?
I went in wanting/thinking I’d hate it, but I ended up being good at doing it on my own time without having to commute to campus, although I did not enjoy discussions online very much. Zooms were distracting and I realized I had to leave my camera on to get myself to not zone out and force myself to pay attention in a way. All in all I liked it a lot but was very excited to come back.
What were the most challenging aspects of the pandemic for you?
I think what was challenging was a sense of responsibility, as an adult I felt like I had more say in where I went and what I did, my one roomie was immunocompromised so I needed to kind of be careful too for her and I was very hyper aware of how my options could affect someone else. I wasn't very worried for myself but the thought of having to tell someone else that I got them sick and if they got someone else sick was very worrying. I definitely experienced a lot of personal growth throughout the process. I broke up with a boyfriend and saw how my friends were around the pandemic. If I saw people I knew being irresponsible about the pandemic it made me realize more about them and that they just didn't care about the health of others. I became aware of how ignorant some people can be in regards to each other.
Did you ever get Covid-19?
I did yes, last April (2022): I went to Pablo's (a bar downtown) with friends right after masks were lifted and within the next 2 days I took a test and it was positive. I ended up going home to my parents house to quarantine there with more space and my own bathroom rather than staying in my shared student house with one bathroom.
Were there any aspects of pandemic life that were good for you?
I’m not a huge social person, the explanation/excuse of covid was a good way for me to stay in and I had way more time on my hands to do things I wanted to. I was living with friends too so I had a small bubble for some socialization which was really nice and I didn't have to see anyone else.
What was your experience of the Omicron outbreak in December/January 21/22?
Everyone I knew knew someone or got it. I went up north to see family for Christmas. I remember going up and a family member was like I came in contact with someone when we were already up north and then they went out and were with one of our friends in a car and one of them tested positive, when we woke up Christmas eve we all took multiple tests to see if we had it as well.
How did COVID-19 impact your friends and family?
As I said earlier I broke up with my boyfriend at the beginning, and with my roommates again the one stayed really similar as she spent a lot of time in her room and at home as she was super cautious. My other roommate ended up becoming really close with me and we became quite codependent and went on walks, cooked and were together all the time. I met someone I knew and we are actually still together right now. I feel like covid helped to bring us close and get to know each other. As for my family I didn't see them much as I was living at school so I’d say my relationship with them stayed pretty well the same.
Looking back, how did the pandemic change your life?
Covid made me need to change programs, I got to reconsidering it and then the pandemic happened and I realized what i actually wanted to do, so it changed me but what I was majoring in. I wasn't doing well with all the sciences and stuff online and though it wasn't easy I'm glad online made me realize I wasn't excited about what I was in. Besides that I got time to better understand what I liked, I did my own thing, and it made me realize I should take advantage of social time even if it's just having some friends over and sharing space rather than being alone all the time. Pre covid I feel like having people in your space was an overlooked privilege so just enjoying the quiet and realizing what you are missing.
Is there anything you did or used to cope with the pandemic? (ex. Online shopping, new hobbies…)
I walked. I literally went on like 3 walks a day with my roommate. Which was fun but I also tended to do more with her too and I learned some new things. A negative side though I began smoking more, so we (me and my roommate) would go to the store, and go grocery shopping trekking out for snacks and cool drinks before going back to the house because there was nothing else to do at night.
Describe the moment you realized how serious COVID-19 was?
I feel like walking around and seeing nothing. No stores open it felt like the first time in my life with this big collective experience and everyone was at home and I couldn't imagine anything like it happening before. It also hit me when Nick Cordero the Canadian actor (he had graduated from my high school) died from Covid. I feel like it really hit me since he had a wife and kids and since he's from Hamilton too. I thought of him being this healthy 30-40 year old guy and that was the first thing that made me realize it wasn't just happening far away.
Other than wearing a mask, what was the biggest change you made to your daily life?
Being aware of where people have been before seeing them, planning interactions. I had to ask people where they had been before they saw me, and being like I can't. Planning every interaction, like oh are you sick who have you seen and having to meet outside. Even like being aware of what I'm touching, like I'm a really bad nail bitter so it just made me more hyper aware.
How do you feel about university education during the pandemic years?
I feel like I had a lot out of it though it was frustrating seeing people take advantage of things, without trying to do it. Like seeing people fully taking advantage of the system and seeing us getting similar grades but not getting anything out of it. You won't know what you're doing in 4th year after that if you didn't do the work 1st year. I definitely got a good run of it and got lots out of it in the end.
List one positive thing and one negative thing you'll take away from 2020 or pandemic in general:
Positive; there was a time where it felt that you didn't have to do anything else so just do what you want to because you're not going to go out because nothing is open. It gave me time to do my own thing and gain some ground, and you could focus on yourself a lot. I gained more confidence and accuracy with myself and other people.
Negative; I really realized how ignorant and selfish others were to each other, even when you could take these masks off people were mean to me when I wore mine asking; ‘why are you wearing that…?” like I don't know I want to make mask wearing customers feel safe. It was hard to see people not caring how their actions could affect others, acting like wearing a mask is detrimental to them like would you want a doctor to do surgery without one? The entitlement was insane to experience, I didn't understand how people didn’t realize a mask wouldn't ruin your lives.
In what ways have you experienced the university changing since the pandemic?
There is a lot more accessibility in choosing online/in person classes, and that you can choose where to be so it's more open than before and the school was forced to be more aware of how it affected the student with mental health and social aspects. On-Campus students who didn't get a high school experience were just crazy and went wild. A Lot of them came in more socially aware and I think for some of the students they are able to be more socially mature and socially aware without having that from high school. They were a much more party focused group for first years, as they felt they missed out on a lot during high school.
This interview was completed with Carson Simon, a current 4th year UofG history major.