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Student journalism competition: Online schooling tested my self-discipline

10:05 03/08/2021

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.

This week: Home schooling and self-discipline, by Justina Michaels

I glanced in the mirror to my right and wiped my sweating hands on my pyjama shirt. As I opened my computer, the purple Teams icon stared back at me.

Someone’s voice in the background numbed the thoughts running through my head, as I began sifting frantically through the pile of papers to my left. Each blank worksheet caused a new wave of stress to flow through my veins. I quickly glanced up at my schedule, as the word “test” marked in bright red shone off the dull, white paper. My fist got tighter as the ringing in my ears grew louder.

Then the computer spoke. “Justina, what do you think?” I froze.

Online school has been a test of my self-discipline. When one missing assignment turned into  five, my will to do them vanished. It was hopeless. Without having to turn in assignments in person, the pressure to complete them disappeared and soon I had dug myself so deep into a hole of essays and worksheets that there was no hope of finding a way out.

The classes I used to look forward to with anticipation now felt like a chore. The rush I used to feel when writing about the effects of the Great Depression had disappeared, and the questions I used to shoot my hand up to answer were now met with silence.

I turned to YouTube and Netflix to distract me from all the missing work, and the temptation to  scroll mindlessly through my phone while my maths teacher explained functions grew stronger every day.

Never before had I felt so disappointed in myself, wasting the potential I knew I had. On some days I summoned the energy to get out of bed and sit at my desk, on others I found myself conjugating verbs with a blanket over me. The to-do lists I wrote in the mornings sat untouched until dark, all the little boxes unticked.

A part of me knew that I could easily pick up a pen and in an hour my assignments would be complete, but I no longer possessed the ounce of motivation that such a task required.

One day I decided to challenge myself to not look at my phone for an entire day. The temptation was stronger than ever, but after a few hours I noticed something. As I actually began to listen and retain what my teachers were saying, the delight I once had for my classes reappeared.

Even though online school has taken a lot from me, I have gained a lot too. Now every time I tell myself that I’ll write that essay tomorrow, I stop and remember the last time I told myself that. The first time was hard, but I saw that as I picked up my pen and hesitantly carved a single sentence in black ink onto the paper, each sentence after that came with more and more ease.

Justina Michaels
Age: 16
Nationality: Polish and American
School: British School of Brussels
Residence: Belgium; I've also lived in France and Germany
Interests: Music, cooking and politics
Ambition: I would like to pursue politics and law 


Written by Justina Michaels