As we near the two-year mark of the start to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is due time we reflect on some of the new things it has brought to us. For one, the concept of being together has shifted severely in the past two years. Remember March 2020? Socially distancing together to end the pandemic? Clapping every night at 8pm for the medical and first line helpers? Tagging yourself on Instagram that you are #StayingHome? Well, a lot has changed since then, and certainly not to say for better or for worse. It has simply changed the way we socialize. In this blog post we explore how students in this pandemic world have been making friends, especially away from home.
Disclaimer: This is only a snapshot of how some students have experienced the pandemic. It is also certainly not to say that socially distancing has not been life saving for many. It is simply to illustrate how even while we embrace the necessity of the intricacies of a socially distant lifestyle, it impacts students.
I am an extrovert. Like an extra-extrovert. Sometimes I get all my energy from being around people, which is why lockdowns, curfews, “a maximum of 2 guests”, online education, travel restrictions have sent me on a spiral trying to find new ways to find any kind of balance in my life. And I even consider myself lucky because I spent two whole years (before the pandemic began) being able to meet my classmates, study in an environment and in project groups where I am able to use all my senses to grasp my environment, my study and the people. It’s not to say that there were no challenges, but at least we were able to see each other everyday, bounce ideas off each other, and ask those “dumb questions”.
But what happens when you travel halfway around the world away from your home, excited to start your journey as a student in a new city, country, or continent? We asked our SCDAI Community (join the Community here) to tell us a bit more about what their experiences as students during a pandemic have been so far.
Everyone seems to agree that it is almost entirely dependent on self-initiative. You need to be proactive in the group chats, propose ways to hang out, and with time you begin forming a group. An upside that became very evident to one of the respondents was that the friendships, while less in quantity, became much more accelerated due to the intensity of meeting the same contacts for safety reasons, thus forming very deep bonds.
And here we are left to further ask, what if you don’t click with the people you end up seeing more regularly? Another Community member mentions precisely this - you end up wondering about all the interesting people you could have met and fear that you never will. A sense of having your student years “robbed” from you in a way creeps up. A sadness of missing out on a time in your life that is so very hyped up. Many Community members shared that they are yet to meet their classmates in person, or they haven’t had a single in-person lecture (apart from in person project/seminars), they haven’t had an opportunity to meet the many cultures and people they were eager to. And the list goes on.
"Over time you begin losing the confidence and courage in approaching and meeting people in social situations as you normally would without the restrictions. Approaching people becomes scarier and you lose courage.”
A recurring barrier to most however, is the matter of ethics and what’s right. Many shared with us that at some point their classmates and acquaintances began organizing parties and get-togethers. And as appealing as this might sound, it in fact poses further frustrations. For many, this meant that while now there were gatherings happening, those were usually against the established restrictions, and most importantly can potentially endanger the lives of many. So a lot of students held back, stayed home and wondered what it could have been to meet so many new people.
"I agree with the social rules and restrictions. So I felt like I couldn't go sometimes because I wouldn't have felt okay with myself and would have been going against what I thought was right. Especially when your friends are going and keep thinking of all the people you could have met during these events."
There is also the question of introvertedness vs. extrovertedness. While introverts were relieved of the constant pressure to socialize in big crowds, it forcibly pushes one further into their shell making future interactions worse.
“As an introvert there is this constant switch between being relieved of social obligations and feeling frustrated for having to work with new more challenging norms to social interaction: Do I reach out? How do I reach out? What would be an appropriate suggestion? etc.”
And while extroverts learned what it’s like to be forced into a situation you don’t want to be in, with time and lack of social contact you find yourself constantly in a brain fog and low on energy.
As we continue to feel out this new area of socializing, let’s remember to be kind to ourselves and to others. Many of us don't remember the social rules. Because the rules have also changed. So let’s embrace the awkwardness that many social interactions will bring, but also keep in mind that for some it may even be harder than it was before. Harder to find the “correct” words, facial expressions, gestures and jokes when meeting people.
To all the students who feel like you’ve “missed out” on your student years. We hear you. And we applaud you for doing your absolute best to retain sanity in these unchartered waters.
Wondering about the SCDAI Community? If you want to be part of a student community where we discuss, share and amplify ideas, sign up by clicking here.