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The Bulletin student journalism competition: Studying in the time of a pandemic

10:09 13/07/2021

The Bulletin launched its inaugural student journalism competition in the knowledge that adolescents risk being Covid’s “lost generation”. On top of the normal stresses of being a teenager, the social distancing and interruption to routine caused by the pandemic have taken an emotional toll.

So we felt it was important to hear their voices and give them a platform. How has the virus affected their studies and their lives? What has the experience taught them, and how has it changed them? Students aged 15 to 18 from international schools in and around Brussels responded. Although the competition was in English, all the entrants were multilingual, with experience of living in other countries.

Together, their essays reflect the difficult but frequently mundane reality of lockdown, or living under “house arrest” as one young writer described it. Their remarkable honesty shines a light on an unprecedented period in their lives. We were impressed by their creativity, their storytelling skills and their capacity for self-reflection, and would like to thank each of them, and their schools, for their enthusiastic participation.

We’ll be publishing one competition entry each week – starting with our winner, 17-year-old Adam Pickard from the British School of Brussels. Congratulations to him, and to all who took part. After a challenging academic year, we wish them an excellent summer and all the very best for their futures, which will no doubt be bright.

The winning entry: My experience of studying during the pandemic, by Adam Pickard

There are four sockets in my bedroom. My laptop’s battery is not quite enough to survive an entirely digital school day; or rather, my fear of it suddenly running out at a crucial moment (which kicks in as soon as it dips below 75%) forces me to keep the charge high. So one of these four sockets must hold the cable as I work.

One socket is for my bedside lamp, and is awkward to reach anyway, so that’s off the list. Another is the one I use for my Yamaha keyboard, which theoretically I could unplug from the wall, since I don’t need it very often (it’s mostly a plaything). However, the cable can only reach as far as my bed, where I sleep, and I’ve definitely read before that working there isn’t considered fantastic for one’s productivity. There is one socket with no regular occupant, behind my desk; unfortunately, a poorly-thought-out choice of IKEA furniture means it’s trapped behind a wooden panel, and accommodating the charger cable would mean pulling the desk away from the wall, probably resulting in all sorts of paraphernalia constantly slipping into the newly formed abyss. Besides, my desk is covered in old folders and files I haven’t touched since my GCSEs, which I am yet to find a more suitable space for, or indeed the will to look for one.

That leaves just one socket to audition, the one by the door. And it’s a viable contender, as it’s also responsible for charging my laptop at night, and therefore has experience in holding the charger. But its placement proves a problem; once again, the cable cannot stretch to the desk, let alone any other surfaces – it can only just reach the end of my bed. So I end up spending most of my time sitting on my bed anyway, to the chagrin of my productivity – and also my spine, which without a chairback is often bent over uncomfortably, then suddenly straightened in a flash of panic about potential future arthritis, only to slowly collapse back into a curve as my mind finds other things to panic about.

My backdrop here, however, is decidedly inadequate for when I need to turn my camera on. Other classmates are clearly at desks, with (I presume) conveniently nearby sockets; just sitting on my bed seems somehow lesser in comparison. So instead, I position myself in front of my curtains – having to unplug my laptop in the process – and pretend I am at my desk. But it doesn’t help that turning on my camera seems to blitz through my computer battery like locusts through a cornfield, and after two history lessons’ worth of being politely visible, I rush to get my laptop its lifeforce back, before it’s too late.

My ill-designed home workspace is probably my fault. But thankfully, I can blame any resultant inefficiency on the pandemic. A rare positive side of the virus: it makes an excellent scapegoat.

Adam Pickard
Age: 17
Nationality: English
School: British School of Brussels
Residence: Brussels; I have lived in the UK and Germany
Interests: Writing, English literature, humour
Ambition: Plan to study English, ideally at either Oxford or Cambridge

Written by Adam Pickard