When I started my Multimedia Journalism degree at the university of Essex in 2019, I never would have thought that within several months a global pandemic would happen causing the university to close and taking my independent life away.

I flew back to my home country, Estonia, in March, praying that the situation would get better quickly.

But the lockdown continued, so I was only able to get back to campus in October. The view of the campus shocked me. The main squares which were usually full with happy students looked so lonely, almost deserted. Nothing felt the same anymore.

At the start of the new academic year in October most of the lectures were still being held online on via Zoom.

Social-distancing rules on campus were even more strict than in the spring. But the university’s staff were tried their best to keep the students safe while at the same time giving them the best university experience they could.

Trayana Vasileva, my course mate from Bulgaria, was also miserable when she found out classes would again be via Zoo.

She said: “I was really disappointed we had to start the uni year online but, of course, the most important thing was to be safe.

"When I had my first face-to-face lecture in October I couldn’t have been more happy.

"It was so nice to go back to the newsroom and to be able to spend some time with my course mates,”–she says.

"Campus didn't look the same as last year. It was so empty, students spent more time in their rooms because the lectures are online.

"At the beginning of the uni year, campus was like a ghost town. Everything is getting better slowly and I hope soon we will be able to go to campus without worrying.”

However, as term went on, the situation goes worse as strict Covid-19 guidelines were implemented.

Students were not allowed to visit each other’s flats and had to keep a safe distance from all the staff who came into accommodation or wear a mask when they were around.

Despite the coronavirus fears, some students from Essex still decided to live on campus.

Katie Beadles, a second year student, booked a room in a student accommodation for the sake of her independent life.

She said she found accommodation rules reasonable considering the worldwide situation.

“I don’t think it’s hard living with the rules, I was doing the same in the summer at home," she said.

"The only difference is I live with new people who may not follow the rules like others.

"But as students we all need a balance of studying and social life, so it’s understandable people are itching to see each other."

Anca Ioana Miron, a first year student, was looking forward to meeting her class mates but because of the online lectures, it was much harder to make new friends. She said: “It was a lot harder to meet new people since many of my peers were studying from home so I only got to see their faces on Zoom and in formal situations.

"I don't think you can form any friendships with them in such conditions unfortunately. Now I get to meet new people by involving in different clubs and societies."

Although most of the campus-based facilities were closed during lockdown, some of the study spaces remained open. As there were fewer students on campus, lots of empty lecture rooms were available to use without booking. Students also did not have to book their study session in the Albert Sloman Library which stayed open on a limited basis.

Sue Jade Coucan, a second year student from France, said: “To remain active when the gyms closed I started jogging with my flatmate every two days.

" Sometimes we would walk to campus and study there.

"Even though it is so much more work than last year, it seems to be more efficient for me.

"We study at our own time and build our own study process. However, you have to stay in your room for the whole day doing your research and it definitely has an effect on your mental health.”

Students nationally have sought refunds for their fees due to the lack of face-to-face contact.

And Sue Jade also believes the tuition fees are unreasonable.

She said: “I don’t think we should be paying the full price, as we don’t use all the facilities we would use if it wasn’t for the pandemic”.

Not only has the way we study had to change, our social life has taken a big hit too.

Last spring almost all campus-based facilities had to close their doors to customers, however, it has not been the case this year.

Sports facilities were available for the students although time slots had bee ben booked for training sessions. Eating and drinking facilities also remained open with changes to keep visitors and staff safe.

Sub Zero, a club based on campus which is popular among students, was rebranded into a new safe underground drinking space called The Nightingale Arms.

Students who visited had to follow strict safety rules - tables had to be booked in advance and when entering students had to check in with the NHS Covid-19 app.

Inside, everyone had to keep two meters apart and had to wear face coverings.

There were also plenty of zoom events for students’ entertainment such as an open mic night where the students can play a musical instrument, read poetry or practise comedy, and others can watch them live on YouTube. Before the lockdown some of the events were being held face-to-face, including quiz nights and themed music nights. Strict regulations still applied and no loud music could be played in case it encouraged the students to dance and break social distancing rules.

Enya Lynch, a second year student working for the Student Union, said: “The events were much less popular among students, however, with everything going on in the world it’s always nice to have a drink with a few friends no matter how low the music is.

"But the bar, especially on quiz night, was usually full. The events were also less popular because you had to book everything online and the hours were cut down from 6pm t 10pm whereas before students would start going out to campus at 10pm if not later."

To keep students safe, the tables were separated and the staff was working using a new app called Round. To have a drink, you had to download the app and order a drink of your choosing. The order would go straight to the bar, and then the waiter would bring you a tray with your drink and put the tray on your table. This way, the glass was only touched by two people: the bartender and yourself.

Now it is the end of term, students have new concerns.

The Government is encouraging students to travel home between December 3 and 9, creating safe travel corridors.

However, some of them are chosing to wait a bit.

Sue Jade said: “Those dates are not mandatory, they are only recommended.

"I still plan to go back to France to see my family and my friends for the Christmas holiday but I booked my flight later in December.

"For now I am spending my time studying either in my room, or on campus.”

Aneta Jamečná, a second year student from Slovakia, is worried she’s not going to get home for Christmas to see her loved ones.

Her home country is not under lockdown but no-one knows how the situation could change.

She said: “I kind of predicted the lockdown in the UK because it was happening all over Europe.

"What I’m really worried about is the borders will close and I won’t be able to get home for Christmas."

The students are looking forward to spending Christmas with their families.

It has been a challenging year and a challenging term but the university has done what is could to give us a proper education while keeping us safe.