Completing the last semester of undergraduate online

My college life during the COVID-19 pandemic

Yuhan Ma

As an international student who is graduating in May, The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely brought changes to my school life. I have gained lots of experiences, either good or bad, that were totally new for me thanks to the pandemic. Therefore, in this self-reflection blog, I will discuss what I have achieved in my last semester studying at UIUC, specifically in my Jour 445 class, and how the coronavirus has changed my life at the university. 

Before we started taking our courses remotely, I was able to complete 2 pkgs, 2 vos, 1 vosotvo, and 2 news updates. I covered the newly established Block I statue at the O’Hare International Airport and an event called Discover India for my pkgs. Block I was my first pkg for this course, and before starting this course, I hadn’t done any pkg for two semesters since my last time in TV1. So there was a process for me to pick up what I learned two semesters ago and get familiar with the procedure back again. I encountered some difficulties while working on my first pkg. Specifically, I did not consider the possibility that the statue I was going to film might be located on the way to the gates, which I could not access if I was not traveling. I asked the staff at the airport if I could get in and film the statue, but I did not get the permission. Therefore, all my footage of the statue was substituted by some photos from social media. Besides, I also had to get familiar with where to place my camera when interviewing, switching my camera setting, getting nat sound pops, etc. To me, it was really a pity not being able to get the statue’s footage, but it was also a relief that I found a solution, and that the pkg eventually turned out well. 

I found it more comfortable when shooting my second pkg, Discover India. Originally, I was going to do a vosotvo on the event, but it turned out that there was a lot more to film than I expected when I got there, so I changed my plan. I am usually a stick-to-the-plan type of person, for I don’t like the feeling of insecurity when situations change. But I think I have to get used to it, because as a real journalist, you have to be ready for all kinds of changes. There are often times that breaking news happens and doesn’t leave you with the time to plan everything out. I actually really like how my pkg turned out at last, and it is my favorite pkg this semester, though I have only done two in total. Besides, I covered the Lunar New Year celebration and pop-up bunny cafe for my vos, and the Agriculture Technology Summit as a vosotvo. All of them were very interesting events, and I like that I tried different varieties of contents. 

My two news updates were both stressful and exciting experiences. They were very time-driven, and it was a bit frustrating when having to edit every story in Premiere and every script in ENPS. But I like the idea that I got to make every decision for my own show. They were also exciting for me since I really enjoy being in front of the camera. Among all positions we have done in the newsroom, the anchor is my favorite position to do. My second news update was the most unforgettable one, because it was supposed to air the week we started learning remotely. The night before, we decided to film our updates in the studio. I didn’t have any time to fix my hair or do my makeup. There were only six or seven of us, so we had to take all the positions for each other’s news updates. Everything was decided at the very last minute so we had to adjust to the situation fast. I was glad that we made that decision, because I really enjoyed my time spent in the studio that night. We stayed up late but had a lot of interesting conversations. It was also the last time I saw my classmates this semester (and probably my entire life since I’m graduating,) so it was a very meaningful night to me. I will not succeed with my assignments if without my management skill and productivity. I am always ahead of schedule, and I’d like to plan everything out, for instance, looking for story ideas and finding sources, as early as possible before I start working on it. I like completing my editing early as well rather than wait until the Wednesdays before we air on Thursdays, because this will give me more time to make changes in order to make my videos look better. 

This journey is definitely different from other semesters as an aspiring journalist and a student, not only because of the pandemic. Every time when I move from a lower-level class to a higher-level one, the transition usually feels smooth and effortless to me. However, I feel that there is a gap between this course and courses I have taken before, and I’m sure there is a gap for many others in the class too as I saw how everyone is at different skill levels and doing things in different ways as the producer. It is true that every teacher has their different way of teaching, and what my previous teacher taught me might not be what my future teacher expects me to have learned. But I think someone has to fill up that gap instead of ignoring it while sticking to their own way of doing things. As a student from China, I really like the journey with my classmates and instructor, for they have created a respectful and diverse learning environment for me. I am never someone who is good at technology, so it has been one of the difficulties I have to deal with ever since I started learning journalism. I hope that in the future, I will be able to take better control with my equipment, for example, the camera, because it is really frustrating when you come back realizing that there is something wrong with your entire interview, which happened once to me this semester. 

I would probably never imagine that my last semester of my undergraduate education will turn out to be like this. It is a difficult time, for it’s the first time to take classes online at home for us all. I don’t have too many changes to adjust in my other courses, but this course is the one that has been affected the most because of its nature. We are not able to film any videos since we have to stay home, so all our video assignments had to be changed to written assignments. If I could know before, I would probably cherish the time more when I could still go to classrooms and film videos outside. 

I first heard about the virus in January when it just started in China, and I definitely didn’t think that it would develop into a global pandemic several months later. I felt nervous for my parents and reminded them to wear masks and stay home every day. It is interesting that now the situation has completely changed, and they started to worry about me. At first the incident did not feel very relevant to me, because it was so far away from me. Although I felt bad about people who were fighting against it, I never thought that I was one of them until it actually started affecting my life. My theater club’s new play has been canceled, and I was supposed to be the lead actress. Then the commencement was canceled as well, which is really upsetting for all of us who are graduating. Some of the Chinese students I know have already gone back to China and united with their families. I decided to stay on campus, for it’s easier to work on my classes without having to consider the time zones.

All restaurants have stopped dine-in service.

I try to go outside as little as possible, so every time I go grocery shopping with my boyfriend, we always get a whole bunch of things. We booked our flight tickets to China on May 25, but we are concerned that our flight may be canceled since we have heard from other people whose flights earlier than ours were already canceled. Also, I can’t rent my apartment in Chicago for my graduate school this fall so far, because I don’t know whether my graduate school will still teach remotely next semester. 

Getting groceries at an Asian market.

This pandemic has brought me many uncertainties, but there is always a good side. For instance, I have more free time now since we are learning at home. I’m able to do things that I’ve always wanted to do but never had time to do before. I started reading several books and learning drawing and fashion design. I’ve never liked cooking, but recently I’ve been trying to cook for myself. I’ve also seen some movies I’d wanted to see for a long time. Atonement and The Grand Budapest Hotel are two of my favorites.

As a journalist, I was able to view everything more completely and from different perspectives. Because I’m from China, I have access to both Chinese media outlets and American ones. Sometimes it is very interesting to see how one issue is portrayed differently. As social media becomes more and more commonly used, news is often used as a tool to sway people’s attitudes instead of merely delivering information. The news I have read during the pandemic has made me wondering whether they are representing what’s really happening around us. When Chinese mainstream news outlets talk about how the government is doing a great job bringing back students studying abroad, there are still countless international students in American and Europe who can not book a flight to go home. Moreover, these people are often deliberately shielded on Chinese social media when they want their different voice to be heard. As a Chinese student studying journalism in the U.S., it often confuses me that whether it is still journalism when it’s linked to politics. This is not something unique in China, however, as I have seen different political preference of news outlets in the U.S. as well. The difference is that American news can have different political tendencies while Chinese news can only have one. So, does this make American news real journalism and Chinese news not? Or should real journalism not be connected to politics at all?

Critical thinking and self-confidence are both important for me to complete assignments and facing challenges. Being able to think critically helps me to continue improving and challenging myself. It helps me look deeper inside of issues rather than staying on the outside layer. Self-confidence is important when resolving difficulties I meet, for I am able to stay calm and think as many possible plans as possible. It also helps communicate with my audience for it builds up my credibility. What I have learned from this class is that I am always better than I think, but sometimes I’m just too afraid of losing. If I push myself a little bit every time, I will be able to achieve something greater than I expect. Things always seem harder than they are until you start trying. In this class, I’m most proud of the pkgs I have done, and for this semester, I’m most proud of getting into the graduate school that I’ve always wanted to go to. I will probably remember my classmates and my instructor the most, because they are all interesting, energetic, and professional people to work with, and each of them has a unique and great personality. 

If I am to give future students some suggestions, the first thing I want to say is to keep learning no matter what. Even if you are at home and taking all your courses online, there are always ways for you to not waste your time. Read news regularly and keep up with current events. Keep writing, photo shooting, or filming whenever you want to record something. Try to make use of anything you have around you to do journalistic works. Sometimes I even feel glad about this pandemic even though it traps me at home, because global issues like this do not happen everyday, and it is a good thing for us, as journalists, to experience and record it. This is a real-life lesson which may be better to learn from than any class. My second suggestion is to keep communicating with your classmates and your instructor no matter where you are. This is the best way to keep you updated about what’s going on in your class. Finally and probably the most important thing is to stay healthy. Being responsible for your own health is on top of everything else, and don’t let anything like this pandemic prevent you from succeeding in your classes. 

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