‘It was a surreal feeling!’: PLAs talk about returning to campus

La Trobe’s Peer Learning Advisors (PLAs) are high-achieving students who have been specially trained to help others with study and assessments. Go to the Learning Hub LMS to find out more about the PLAs and access the Zoom drop-in service.

It’s good to be back! We caught up with some of our PLAs to chat about navigating campus, forming new connections, and overcoming those pesky back-to-uni nerves.

PLAs Bridget Fallon, Margaret Tran and Srishti Chatterji.

What were the first few weeks back on campus like for you?

Kiara Colantuono: A bit surreal to be honest! Especially because I’m a second-year student, and completed my first year completely online. It felt like I was a first year again – a bit lost and a little frazzled but overall excited!

Bridget Fallon: I found myself feeling excited about the little things like sitting in a classroom and walking to and from classes. A change of scenery has been so refreshing after being stuck mostly at home for 12 months.

Bionda Pettigrew: It was great to see classmates and lecturers again, but there was also a slight feeling of anxiety, like you feel when you first start first year. This soon went away once we got into the swing of things again.

What did you miss the most during lockdown?

Jacqulyn Evans: I struggled hard during lockdown as I don’t work from home very well. I missed being able to run into people I know around campus and in the Agora and have a quick chat. I missed the buzz in the Library and just people moving around.

Hannah Gray: I missed having a separate space for study life and home life. It often melded into one and I struggled to set boundaries for when to stop studying and have some down time. 

Srishti Chatterji: I missed the social aspect of uni the most, for sure! This year, I am excited about all the in-person events that will take place. We have also just created a Biomed club (Society of Wodonga Biomedical Students) at the Albury-Wodonga campus and I’m stoked for all the fun activities we are planning!

What’s the best way to make friends on campus?

Bridget Fallon: Get out there and attend events or join a club! Secretly, everyone else probably feels the same way so try and be confident and make the first move. Sit next to someone during a workshop, spark up a conversation or ask one of your classmates if they want to study with you! Starting is the hardest part but once you approach a few people it will get easier.

Bionda Pettigrew: I was nervous about fitting in at the start of first year (particularly as I am a mature aged student). But I made the effort to step outside my comfort zone and approach people to start a chat. It didn’t take long for us to form connections. It didn’t matter what age we were, what cultural background we came from, or what our personal interests were. We were all there because we wanted to care for people, and that common factor brought us together.

Kiara Colantuono: Be kind to yourself. If you find it difficult to make the first move when talking to your peers, take it easy, and try again another day. We’ve all been through a year of isolation and social-distancing and are learning to socialise again – so it’s completely understandable to have those nerves.

How are you feeling about ‘blended learning’?

Bridget Fallon: For me ‘blended learning’ includes pre-work online and then applying that content during face-to-face practical classes or workshops. There are pros and cons– it’s easy for me to slip behind on uni work as I have to do it in my own time, but the online nature of it means I can catch up fairly easily by watching recorded workshops. I am making it work by trying to be on-top of my learning schedule and ticking off my learning tasks each week.

Margaret Tran: ‘Blended learning’ for us looks like online night classes after clinical placement. It is quite difficult to keep on track, especially in learning through a screen, but the benefit is that you can take it at your own pace with the recorded lectures.

What makes your campus special?

Kiara Colantuono: The Bundoora campus’ Agora is definitely the heart of the campus. Not only are there a vast amount of fantastic food options for lunch, there are so often events running in the centre with music playing – it’s a really great energy to have upon the return to campus!

Bionda Pettigrew: The Shepparton campus feels like a second home. The staff are very supportive, and it is nice to see them outside of class time and say hello or have a laugh. We are very lucky to have a fantastic clinical lab where we can practice our nursing skills in a safe environment.

Bridget Fallon: I love the community on the Bendigo Campus. Being a smaller campus means I am able to get to know other students and teachers more easily.

Srishti Chatterji: The special thing about the Wodonga campus is that because it’s so small, it fosters a very welcoming environment where everyone knows each other! So if you need help, someone is always there to lend a hand.

Any other advice to share?

Bridget Fallon: La Trobe has great support services to help if you fall behind or feel overwhelmed, so don’t be afraid to reach out. You don’t have to brave it alone!