Penny Grigg was looking forward to her first year of study at Lincoln University – then Covid-19 came calling with its associated lockdown.

As a first-year student at Lincoln University, my 2020 was supposed to consist of trips to the pub and other late nights trying to finish assignments. The first half of the semester followed this pattern with the O’Week toga party and sessions at the Yaldie. They squeezed in our LINC101 visits to dairy and cropping farms. The Future Leaders Programme got underway with guest speakers, leadership training and community service.
But the last couple of days before mid-term break, the campus was a different place. Students were leaving in the early hours to beat the lockdown deadline and scrambling to book flights. Halls were emptying out and we had to sit apart in the dining hall.
Friends on the World Hereford tour came back from Otago, went to the pub for the weekend to catch up with friends, then found they needed to go into self-isolation in their rooms.
I drove back to our sheep and beef farm in Marlborough, took over the dining table and competed for WiFi with two siblings who were also trying to study.
I completed the first semester with online lectures, labs, tutorials and exams, all done over the laptop. I don’t think many of us would like to repeat it. Lecturers did their best but not many students had the confidence to get a good debate going over Zoom. Like so many of my other rural friends, trying to balance farm work and uni study was tricky.
During level four we harvested 12 hectares of grapevines, but we all watched over the fence this year. No trips in the harvester and we couldn’t even give hot pies to the gondola drivers. The harvester driver and gondola drivers all had to move in together, keeping clear of their families and other harvesting teams. There was a relief that the harvest could go ahead because without it Marlborough would have been crippled.
Feeding out during the drought became less of a burden for Dad when there were teenagers to do it instead. For the duration of lockdown our household routine followed the same, constant pattern. Getting up in the early hours, feeding out or mustering with a final rush to get back home for 9am lectures. Days bled into weeks. The sheepdogs and horses got fitter. Balage got more expensive. The cottage was painted. I got really sick of Covid-19 updates.
The lack of social interaction definitely threw a spanner in the social life but family time was good. I don’t think I have ever seen our glass recycling bin so full.
The Future Leader Scholarship Programme carried on and it was really great to catch up with the other students every week. We had quizzes and chats, which were a link to the outside world. My cousin Luci has come to live with us for the vineyard pruning season because her trip to Ecuador for her gap year was cut short. Another friend who is supposed to be in Madagascar is loading shelves at Bunnings. A few Diploma student friends are thinking about not going back this year, and doing the course in 2021 as it’s only one year.
They want to make the most of it socially. But the free diploma offered by Lincoln for Semester Two may change their minds.