A top to bottom look of the undergrad experience in 2021-2022  

Novera Shenin
April 14, 2022
Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

Check out how undergrads of each year feel about wrapping up their first post-COVID restriction era university year.

Adriana Miranda — 1st Year Social Sciences 

While first-year social science student Adriana Miranda would describe her overall first-year experience as rewarding, she expressed how completing her first year has left her with hard-hitting life lessons she can always carry with her.  

Miranda feels that she truly came into learning how to confidently advocate for herself and her needs. She now understands that in university if she needs access to any available resources on campus, she must ask for it herself. This component of university taught Miranda that she must always be aware of her rights.  

Even if Miranda is currently enjoying wrapping up her second semester with new friends, as a racialized student she faced systemic barriers in her first semester when she was still relatively new at McMaster.  

“I never felt othered until I started attending McMaster. I saw many racialized students experience isolation and have difficulty making friends. Noticing this influenced how I viewed my classes, peers and professors. Thankfully, once I made friends everything got better,”

Adriana Miranda

In Miranda’s experience, she believes that McMaster can take a greater initiative when it comes to protecting and standing up for students experiencing sexual harassment and violence on campus. Even in departments dedicated to handling such issues such as the Human Rights and Dispute Resolution Program Miranda did not feel cared for or validated by the school.  

“After all that, my main takeaway is that it’s built on colonialism and patriarchy. I’m realizing that now, I’m not going to be as naïve and as trusting with the institution because I’m now aware of what people in charge perpetuate,” said Miranda.  

Going forward, Miranda will focus on finding spaces for racialized students like the Latin American Student Association and Women and Gender Equity Network where she can feel safer and more included.  

Elizabeth Rylaarsdam — 2nd Year Life Sciences - Sensory Motors System  

Now in her second year, Elizabeth Rylaarsdam had to adapt her first year in the life sciences program online. This year, she moved to Hamilton from Ottawa.  

“When everything was online, it still felt like school. However, when I moved away alone for the first time to a new city and transitioned to a hybrid [format], everything felt optional,”

Elizabeth Rylaarsdam

In this year’s hybrid academic model, Rylaarsdam had trouble staying motivated in her online courses as switching between online and in person repeatedly between courses made some classes feel more real for her than others. Rylaarsdam had to adapt her learning style many times in university due to the COVID approaches taken by McMaster along with many second-years and has been unable to establish a routine that works for her.  

Living alone combined with the physical demands caused by in-person learning made Rylaarsdam lessen the number of hours she worked to avoid falling behind academically. She reduced her working hours from 30 hours a week to 10 to 12 hours even if her living expenses increased.  

It was difficult for Rylaarsdam to find a core social group within a school setting as she observed others in her year have somehow formed friend groups already. Aside from hanging out with her hometown friends from high school friends who also attend McMaster, Rylaarsdam managed her mental health by joining the Hamilton Hornets Women’s Rugby Club.  

Playing rugby weekly allowed Rylaarsdam to stay in shape while being able to find a community that she regularly socializes with in a new city. 

“Despite the tumultuous learning curves of moving and finally starting in person university where I felt like I experienced much of the learning I was supposed to get in my first year in my second year, I am hopeful about starting fresh next semester after a restful summer now that I know what to expect,” explained Rylaarsdam.  

Jaclyn Holdsworth — 3rd year Arts and Sciences  

Jaclyn Holdsworth’s third-year experience in the arts and sciences was defined by the bonding she experienced with her cohort post lockdown. Holdsworth experienced connecting and making friendships in her first year within the community culture fostered by her program before enduring Zoom university until this semester.  

“After so much time in lockdown, everyone had more appreciation for the kind of social network and the relationships we wanted to have with others. We are a lot more willing to foster relationships and the quality of those relationships are a lot more authentic,”

Jaclyn Holdsworth

Experiencing the isolation of Zoom school was difficult for Holdsworth, however it caused her to become more willing to acknowledge the times when she is not feeling her best. To mitigate her mental health, Holdsworth stresses the importance of doing at least one small act of self-care every day, be it restocking snacks or going for a walk.  

Embracing and taking care of oneself even when times are tough allowed many third-years like Holdsworth to understand that better times await, and that you are in a much better position to be able to support other others if you start to take care of yourself as well. 

Upon tasting in-person life after a world-shattering event, and still with one year of university left, Holdsworth vows to make herself happy everyday instead of planning for possible contentment five years down the line. Trying not to take her undergraduate experience for granted anymore, Holdsworth encourages everybody to take the time to be present and practice gratitude every day.  

“I would prefer not another pandemic if you can arrange for that. Plan for tomorrow but don’t depend on it,” said Holdsworth. 

Claudia Yong — 4th year Kinesiology (Graduating) 

Working tirelessly on her kinesiology degree throughout her undergrad, Claudia Yong waves a bittersweet goodbye to her time as an undergrad student as she returned to classes in-person just in time to graduate. Yong still feels a little unfamiliar in her position as a fourth-year student given that she lost a year to COVID, and wonders if other graduating students are also feeling a sense of imposter syndrome.  

“The moment I realized I was graduating was when we were taking grad photos. When I put on the gown and sat in the chair for photos, it was surreal, and I could not believe it. The moment the camera went off I finally realized that I’m graduating,” said Yong. 

Fortunately, the return to classes this academic year allowed Yong to pursue the hands-on thesis work she always dreamt of doing and ignited a passion for research in her. Missing out on much of the experiential learning of her science degree in her third year, COVID greatly influenced Yong’s decision to pursue a masters to once again give herself the opportunity to explore and further expand on the research skills she fell in love with.  

With the end of her degree, Yong is continuing to learn not to compare herself and her journey with others, understanding that everybody has their own destined trajectory.  

Referencing the kindness of her kinesiology professors, Yong always encourages the importance of fostering meaningful connections for personal enrichment with faculty members, regardless of a desire for recommendation letters.  

“Many women including myself experience a lot of dismissiveness in healthcare, even from other female practitioners. I want to positively impact the healthcare system for women who might otherwise avoid treatment,”

Claudia Yong
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