Back to (online) school

On a Friday night in mid-March, I was lingering in the cafeteria at my school in New Brunswick when a chorus of buzzing cellphones bounced through the room. Like many students, we learned the university ended in-person classes for the rest of the year. With visions of sleeping in and cancelled exams, we welcomed this news with applause and gleeful whoops. Little did we know that this Friday was our last day of pre-COVID normalcy for the rest of our university experience.

The following week, said applause was replaced with socially-distanced tearful goodbyes. Arriving in a fleet of minivans, concerned parents flooded the campus to move their kids out of residence. Meanwhile, I scrambled to find summer storage, packed two bags to the brim and, after an unsuccessful battle with Expedia, woefully booked a new flight home to Whitehorse.

After finishing the last school year online, university students are once again cracking open their computers to start the fall semester. This has led to a fascinating new normal. Each course introduces The Great Camera Debate. By staring at a screen of classmates, or blank initials, students negotiate the peer pressure to turn their cameras ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Group projects are reduced to a series of loving, but increasingly passive-aggressive, texts. While many students already wore sweatpants to lectures, the online environment has taken pajama day to unexplored heights. In the midst of these happenings, I would like to formally propose the Yukon as the premier location for post-secondary students to experience a global pandemic.

Firstly, I’m spending an outrageous amount of time online. I’ve deleted the ‘Screen Time’ function from all my devices because, quite frankly, at this point, I just don’t want to know. While everyone’s social and academic life is confined to a 13-inch screen, as Yukoners, we have the best opportunity to escape to the outside world. I have the Yukon River in my backyard and an endless number of hikes and adventures in front of me. With heaps of trails and space, Yukoners have been socially distancing in the woods before it was cool (and a necessity). Between the stress of back-to-back essays, I’ve developed my own therapeutic outdoor education curriculum.

The Yukon is also the best place for students like me who are enrolled in schools in a later time zone. Although the time change turns 8 a.m. classes into pre-sunrise, caffeine-induced feats of strength, it is the perfect way to prove your commitment to the course to your professor and ace your participation marks. Furthermore, midnight deadlines in the student’s local time zone add precious free hours to complete last-minute assignments.
In addition to objectively being the perfect location to take online classes, the Yukon has the simple, but powerful, allure of being home. While I’m saying this in September and not in November’s dark drudgery, I’m excited to be in the territory for longer than a two-week winter break. I get to be here for the first snowfall, the twinkling lights in Shipyards Park and giant northern lights in the sky. This semester will have its unique challenges, but I’m grateful I get to experience those challenges north of 60.

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