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GEN Z: Graduating into Chaos: I am 20 years old: I graduated during the 2020 pandemic in South Africa

GEN Z: Graduating into Chaos: I am 20 years old: I graduated during the 2020 pandemic in South Africa

“The confidence that I have in my country’s recovery is low. South Africa’s saving grace from this crisis has to be immunity from the virus. The effect that the pandemic has had on the livelihoods of the citizens of this country is drastic and goes beyond health and job hunting”. Thandie Gitau

What should have  been a year of parties, university lectures, socializing and celebrating has turned into a year of online study, anxiety, isolation and stress for many GEN Z graduates around the globe.  For Gen Z  the global pandemic was something they could not have imagined.  While the people most at risk from COVID-19 does not directly impact them the affect on their lives is just enormous. Generation Z (aka Gen Z, iGen, or centennials), refers to the generation that was born between 1996-2010, following #millennials. This generation has been raised on the internet and social media, with some the oldest finishing college by 2020 and entering the workforce. As part of our series of looking at how the lives of how GEN Z  creatives has changed due to the pandemic, we have profiled young people from across the world to learn how  coronavirus has affected them.

Thandie Gitau is  a 20-year-old BA Strategic Brand Communication graduate (IIE Vega School of Brand Leadership) from Durban, South Africa and writes about her experience. 

2020 was the year I was meant to kick off a decade of self-discovery and build my career. Just as my 20th birthday hit and I was about to truly get into all of my goals for the year, disaster hit. 

2020 was the year that I would finish my degree in branding and communication, attend industry events in my city and learn as much as I possibly could to fulfil my goals for the next few years. I was motivated. January and February went on to prove my plan was running smoothly, but when the month of March rolled around, that plan became void and it’s almost as if, in retrospect, reality flipped. 

Thandie: Image credit from the writer.

Being based in Durban, a coastal destination and one of the three metropolitan cities within South Africa meant that the pandemic hit with speed. The pandemic began to spread and learning from the crisis that Europe faced at the time, it was not long before the entire country closed down. How the pandemic came into the country and the handling of the virus meant that it was serious from the get-go. The metros are densely populated, and the South African health care infrastructure simply wouldn’t be able to handle a herd immunity strategy. Everything had to close, and the country went into a level 5 lockdown under a national state of disaster. This meant that education was suspended for a month, for all students, kindergarten to tertiary, and new ways of teaching had to be found. 

After the month of suspension, my university, and many others across the country went into online learning. Like other students in South Africa, I was sure this was a temporary measure for until the pandemic ended. The pandemic did not end, and so I was wrong. The actions that my institution took were reactionary to the risk the pandemic posed. As the first wave worsened, it became clear that I probably was going to have to figure out how to learn online effectively. 

My experience studying was well supported by my institution and that greatly helped me in succeeding during the uncertainty that faced the country and I am grateful for that especially. Having heard the difficulties that other students faced at their institutions globally, I have been privileged to have had the help I did, and I have been able to apply the same logic that was used to assist me to help others. Despite this, most of the challenges that I had to overcome were mental or had to do with my learning style. Not being able to go out safely, the anxiety of both coursework and the pandemic looming and challenges associated with cross-country group work are things that had to be overcome for the degree I have to be obtained. 

In terms of being personally affected by the pandemic, people who are very close to me have contracted the virus. This has shown me the extent to which illness can go without treatment and cure. Family and friends of mine have been on the front lines as well, so the constant anxiety for their health was the most impactful aspect, as many people in my family are healthcare workers. These experiences have truly shown me not only how intense healthcare work can be, but also how quickly health can deteriorate. Along with this, living in a hotspot with a rapidly spreading new variant is not easy and with transmission rates increasing despite lockdown regulations, my experience with this pandemic has been nerve-wracking at the least. 

This pandemic has given me a different perspective about life and the world around me. I feel a range of contrasting emotions when I think about where I am and my future in the pandemic in comparison to the future I expected. First and foremost, I am grateful to be where I am in this moment, despite the chaos that affects me and my prospects. I have also felt despondent and afraid as well. The pandemic affects a lot more than education and healthcare and, in a country, where youth unemployment is a huge issue, I have felt afraid for my future. The pandemic has worsened my chances to find work and has cut off jobs for so many people. Everything regarding my future at this point is in the air and I truly have no idea how it will pan out. 

Looking inward, my support network changed drastically. With the uncertainty in the air, adapting to the situation was so necessary for any sort of mental stability. Strengthening the bonds, I had with friends and supporting one another during this time helped. Along with this, keeping contact with my family and devising support plans allowed for me and my circle to be able to face challenges. Self-care was a big part in allowing my support network to function during the pandemic. Learning how best I needed support, how to provide that to myself and how to support my support network proved to be a successful idea.  Academically, I was blessed to have support from my lecturers who provided resources that assisted me with topics I struggled with while learning at home. The support that my university provided in the structure of assessments was also hugely helpful and reduced stress that some of my friends who did not attend my institution had. It also provided me with tools and strategies to help them through this as well.

Living in a city like Durban, which is representative of how diverse South Africa is, means that the effects of this pandemic will affect everyone differently. Overall, it cannot be denied that there is a lot of suffering within the country at this moment, in terms of health and economic stability among many other factors. In the same breath though, there are people who have the security to be completely fine in such an uncertain time. The biggest pain points that Durban’s youth face is the level of unemployment for the age segment. Since the economy is essentially in shambles because of the pandemic, the prospect of finding a job is becoming increasingly difficult. 

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The confidence that I have in my country’s recovery is low. South Africa’s saving grace from this crisis has to be immunity from the virus. The effect that the pandemic has had on the livelihoods of the citizens of this country is drastic and goes beyond health and job hunting. To begin the recovery process, immunity is instrumental. Due to this situation, I subsequently have reduced faith in working in the job I set out to working in. As a brand strategy student, I had hoped to enter an agency as a junior strategic planner, however, those jobs have no vacancies and are almost rare when they used to be abundant in the year before. I have had to think laterally and find jobs that are within my education that I can fulfil within the marketing and communications industry. 

In knowing that I have to find my professional footing amidst a crisis, graduating seems slightly saddening. Although my ceremony is set for April, the likelihood of this happening live is low. With the current situation, a virtual ceremony is expected and seeing that I will not be returning to complete my postgraduate studies this year, means that I feel very lost in the situation at hand. 

However, now that it is 2021, I am most optimistic about having skills under my belt that allow me to effect positive change in the world, even if I may not be able to use them immediately. I am also optimistic about the health developments that have been made to curb the pandemic and protect the population.

I’ve always been taught that when change occurs, positive or not, it gives rise to new ways of thinking. Although this change specifically has caused so much devastation and many domino problems, it can give rise to new ways of thinking,  from working to marketing and beyond. Change is not necessarily an exciting thing when it is negative, but it can give rise to exciting opportunities that are unconventional. This is what makes me more optimistic about the year 2021, especially in terms of the skills I’ve gained from my education. 

Overall, this pandemic caused a crisis that has made me grow and adapt faster than I’ve ever had to in my entire life. It has made me increase the faith I have in good things and to become more mentally resilient than I ever have been before. This experience has shown me how to lead, communicate and do my job in unstable circumstances. It has also taught me the importance of both community care and self-care along with the detrimental nature of the way that society has been operating. This has made me more compassionate, patient, and tenacious in terms of my career, and I do not think I would be the person I am today if I were not pushed into survival mode by 2020. 

If you want to share your creative journey during Covid get in touch.

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