Daniel Wood reflects upon moving to Manchester to study during the pandemic.
I came to be a student (again) from a bit of a strange place. Or rather, I didn’t start last year expecting that I would be returning to university. But then the unexpected did seem to typify last year, to say the least. I was in a job which I found less than stimulating (to put it mildly), then I found myself on furlough for month after month with little indication of what would happen next. Eventually the prospect of redundancies raised its head. It’s amazing how quickly corporate cheeriness can go flying out of the window.
I’d wanted to do an MA for a while. Since completing my undergraduate degree in fact. For five years it was always something I was going to do next year, or the year after that … Yet faced with the delightful prospect of trying to find a job during an epoch-defining pandemic, and after some encouragement from friends, I decided to go for it. So, with little time to spare, I got a place at Manchester and a student flat near Hathersage Road.
I knew the experience was going to be different than the last time. I had made great friends during my undergrad years at Exeter. This time I was fairly confident it wasn’t going to be quite like that. Sure, I’d already sought out some people who’d be studying at Manchester too. But I wasn’t anticipating forming a close-knit social circle while I was here. Though less than ideal, I could manage, I told myself. Unlike those starting their first degrees, for whom I don’t think I’m allowed enough words here to describe how rough a deal they’ve received, I was coming to focus entirely on working. If I wasn’t going to be able to do much face-to-face socialising, then I’d make up for it by being the ideal student (not something I could say for my first degree).
Since coming to Manchester I can say I’ve enjoyed the teaching greatly. But there’s a strange formlessness to life at the moment. A sort of plodding monotony as weeks churn over, with very little seeming to actually change. It’s been nice to get to know Manchester a little bit. I’ve missed being able to just see a friend, have a catch up and a walk, perhaps go to a museum or a bookshop and wander around aimlessly. Something to break the week up. When I got back home for Christmas a friend joked that it did seem like I’d been alone, cabin feverish. I don’t exactly know what that’s supposed to mean. I’ve felt the push and pull of a quite strenuous boredom at times, but I feel like I’m ‘managing’ okay.
At the moment though I feel a sort of ambivalence. It’s hard to describe. Being unable to return to Manchester because of the COVID winter surge might have something to do with it. Being unable to focus again on work. Or not really having met anyone while I’m here, not even in my halls. Or just the uncertainty of what happens when I finish this programme. It’s hard to say. I’m glad I chose to do it. It’s just trying to find something to look forward to again, even as the prospect of this all ending, tentative as it may be, looks in sight.
Daniel Wood is studying for an MA in English Literature and American Studies at Manchester. Daniel is the Vice Chair of the University of Manchester Young Fabians and co-Chair of the Young Fabians Arts and Culture Network.