On 15 March 2020, during the spring semester, the University of Central Asia (UCA) campus in Naryn closed abruptly, to stop the spread of Covid-19. Students and teachers were faced with a challenging question: how to continue classes and learning, when everyone had been asked to stay at home?

Like all other educational institutions, UCA had to find a way for students not to fall behind in their studies. It was decided that the semester would continue online, even though it was a completely new format for most.

“It was really challenging for me to start studying online, especially in our case when we didn’t know how to do this,” said Roza, a senior Communications and Media student from Kyrgyzstan. “The environment at home was not conducive to studying as we live with our family members and there is lots of distraction.” 

Some students found it difficult to participate remotely due to connectivity issues in their hometowns. 

“I live in a part of Pakistan which is not really developed,” said Muniza, a sophomore student majoring in Computer Science. “We have a lot of difficulties like limitations with the Internet, electricity, and transportation. The biggest issue was the Internet for sure.” 

These factors, layered on top of lockdowns, social distancing, and isolation, negatively impacted students’ mental health. According to Active Minds, “20 per cent of college students say their mental health has significantly worsened under Covid-19.” Online studying led to conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, sadness, and overwhelm; in addition to concern about their academic performance and future careers. 

“I was stressed because I felt that there was not enough progress in my studies and I was lagging behind,” said Mirzonabot, a junior Computer Science student from Tajikistan.

For some students, the four walls of their building and just having the computer on was scary. “During the online classes I faced claustrophobia. I began to be anxious about the small spaces,” said Kairat, a freshman student from Kyrgyzstan. 

Other students began to feel sad and lonely as a result of lockdowns and social distancing that limited opportunities to socialise, meet, or establish relationships. Aisha, a senior Communications and Media student from Kazakhstan, said she felt sad and lonely because she stopped seeing her friends and classmates on campus, and started missing them while back home. “You might text or call them but it’s not the same.” 

Interestingly, while students initially found it difficult to study online, some became so used to it that they now find it a challenge to come back to in-person classes.

“I was so used to online classes in the past year and a half, that when we started having our in-person classes I was a bit lazy to dress up and show up in the classroom,” said Aqila, a senior student from Afghanistan, majoring in Communications and Media. 

Another difficulty of going to ‘real’ classes is interacting with people again. After a long time of studying online, it might be difficult to work in groups, engage, and interact with course mates.  

For those who have struggled with online learning or coming back to in-person classes, UCA students have some words of wisdom, based on their experiences over the past two years:  

  1. “Try to talk to other people and share,” says Aisha. “When you share something it lifts the weight off your shoulders. Try to distract yourself, do something constructive like sports or cooking.” In order to get used to in-person classes again, “try to change your environment so that you work effectively,” Aisha recommends. “Don’t study in your room. Rather choose study rooms or a library. Try to get active: go to the gym or sports bubble because it keeps you motivated and helps to relieve stress.”    

  2. “Don’t panic,” advises Mirzonabot. “Calm down, take responsibility for the situation and make the best out of it.” Mirzonabot encourages struggling students to quickly adapt back to in-person classes by building a daily routine, and sticking to an organised timeline. “Try to remain focused during the classes, pay attention to the lessons, and be engaged with instructors,” he says. 

  3. “Find something that makes you happy,” says Muniza. “For me it’s reading and writing, sometimes photography and videography as well.” Muniza built a reading habit in the pandemic which helped immensely. “I discovered if I read every day, there is nothing that can stress me out. Be kind to yourself, don’t go hard on yourself, take your time learning things, and love yourself…”

  4. “It is important to move,” says Roza, citing the sedentary nature of knowledge work. “Exercising is very important because we are studying online, we are sitting in front of the computer all the time and it is bad for our health.” For students trying to adjust back to in-person classes, Roza advises them “to be more with your friends and try to spend more time with your course mates, because it helps to be part of a group and get back to your normal routine.” 

  5. “Contact any reliable person like a close friend or colleague and discuss things that are bothering you,” recommends Kairat, who also suggests a large dose of perspective from time to time. “To students having difficulty going back to classes, try to take a deep breath and remember everything will be okay.”  


Sumaino Shakarbekova is a student of Media & Communications at the University of Central Asia (Naryn campus), and currently serves as an Intern with The Ismaili.