Aerial view of Nanaimo campus in the fall

Returning to campus

August 19, 2021
Author: Caitlin Eliasson

A note of encouragement and support from a VIU Counsellor

Dear VIU Community,

A warm hello to each of you as we all prepare to return to campus after a year and half that has brought many changes and challenges, and perhaps some comforts. Since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, we have had to put together a new puzzle of how our study, employment, home and social lives are going to work and how we are going to manage. This has not been simple!

If you take a moment to reflect on your own journey – the lessons you have learned, the difficulties you have faced, the growth you have experienced – what can you recognize and appreciate about how you have navigated the challenges of this year and the strengths that have been required from you to come to this point?

It is a big step to transition back to campus and it comes on the heels of other big steps. So the question is – how do we take this next step?

Allow yourself to feel all the different emotions

Relieved, anxious, excited, apprehensive, hopeful, afraid, tired, joyful, confused – do any of these feelings seem familiar as you think about returning to on-campus life? How are you feeling about returning?

I invite you to take a deep breath, check-in with yourself and gently notice what feelings are present for you. It is also okay to not know how you feel … feelings can get tangled up.

Change and uncertainty can bring up many feelings at once. Each one is real, even as they may seem to contradict each other. For example, we may feel excited about connecting with classmates and colleagues, but also apprehensive about being around lots of people again. We may feel tired from the pressures and worries of the pandemic, wondering how to regain energy to be back in-person, while also hopeful for new possibilities waiting for us on campus. These same possibilities that may carry hope on some days may make us feel anxious on other days.

It is important to remember that we can feel differently from day to day, hour to hour, even moment to moment. This is a signal that our brains and bodies are working hard to make sense of unknowns, trying to put together a new puzzle.

Practice patience as you slowly find your footing

Human brains are generally uncomfortable with holding many feelings at once. Our brains like to take what feels uncertain and make it concrete. Our brains do this by picking up a feeling – and often a challenging feeling like fear or worry – and building a picture of the future based on that feeling. This is a way that our brains protect us and help us to prepare for the unknown. It is natural and important that our brains do this. Yet, in being protective and proactive, our brains can miss or misrepresent valuable pieces of experience and potential.  

As we all look ahead to returning to campus and what that means for each of us, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that it will take time for the picture of return-to-campus life to unfold and come into focus. There is no set timeline for how long this adjusting will take and “normal” campus life may look and feel differently than it did pre-pandemic. 

As you anticipate returning to campus, and then in those first days and weeks of actually being back in-person, you might notice what could and what is giving you a sense of routine or comfort or hope. It may be a beautiful tree you like to sit by or a view from campus that inspires you, a hello or smile you share with a classmate or colleague, a favourite treat from the cafeteria, a class or activity you most look forward to, a ritual you have as you get ready to leave home for a day on campus. Anything can count as we each begin to get a sense of what campus life feels like.

Cultivate caring connections

Finding our footing is not something we have to do alone. Caring connections with others are a supportive way to find stability in times of transition. Who are the people who make you feel more at ease and more belonging, in big or little ways? In what spaces on campus can you imagine finding more connections now that we are able to be together in-person again? What are your hopes for this next chapter at VIU? What are the ways you might help others to find belonging?

And it is not one not one size fits all. Each of us experience connection – how much, how often, in what ways, and in what spaces – in our own unique ways. That’s okay!

Each of us has our own unique path and, at the same time, we share in the experience of change and transition as a campus community. It continues to be an uncertain time and it is also a time that offers possibilities for how we can work together and support each other in bringing forth the remarkable strengths and resilience that have been so evident in our community through this time.  

 

Thank you for being a part of VIU and continuing this journey together. Welcome back to campus. Welcome to those coming to campus for the first time. We are glad you are here! We hope that each of you can find the connections at VIU that are supportive and meaningful for you. Please know that you can always reach out to the many resources on campus.

 

Caitlin Eliasson is a counsellor at VIU. This writing is inspired and informed by mindfulness and polyvagal theories, as well as by lived experiences of working with amazing students on their journeys.

Supports for students

VIU Counselling is available for all VIU students. Other supports are: the Wellness Peers located in the VIU library, VIU Elders-in-ResidenceHere2Talk, which is a 24-hour service for students, and the VI Crisis line. See our website for a list of supports.

Supports for employees

VIU’s Employee and Family Assistance Program is available for any employee who feels they need support right now. Human Resources also has a wide range of wellness supports that can help employees through transitions and other challenging times.

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