When Abhishek and Nimisha stepped into their virtual campuses to pursue further education, there were no inspiring orientations in vast lecture halls or fancy welcome parties straight from Karan Johar’s filmography. Instead, they were greeted by dozens of strangers staring at the screen where they were supposed to socialise from the comfort of their own dwellings.
No new faces, only a few murmurs, and just one professor.
“I don’t consider myself to be a particularly social person. However, I enjoy hugging those with whom I have developed a sense of belonging and friendship,” says Nimisha, who is in her second year of studies at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi. “I’m like the human counterpart of Olaf!,” she adds.
Socialising is a key facet of the college experience. “The social element of education is not optional but necessary if students are to succeed,” writes Joshua Eyler in his book How Humans Learn. Our physical campuses encourage the kinds of encounters that are crucial to the learning process.
What happens, however, when this experience is taken away from students and replicated in a computerised environment?
Abhishek, who recently enrolled for the F.Y. BAMMC programme at the University of Mumbai, describes his subject of study as more practical than other professional courses. His perspective on socialising, on the other hand, was a little different. “When it comes to building a vocation, networking and forming contacts are critical to me. The folks you meet on campus are a stride towards that, which regrettably has not been occurring for me until now,” he responds when asked how his experience has been so far since the virtual classes began.
As we all know, the pandemic threw these conceptions of geographic space into disarray, with classes, gatherings, and other activities moving online. While offline classes may begin soon, the best of the situation is still online and appears to be for the foreseeable future. Given that cohesion lies at the heart of the campus experience, we have to learn a way to develop a sense of belonging and connection in this online environment.
It’s both miserable and magical at the same time.
Despite the fact that the connection is formed online, researchers have discovered that the emotional and psychological advantages of these friendships are equal to those of face-to-face interactions, according to this article from the University of The People.
Let’s get rid of the authorities!
There are no external attempts made by universities to assist freshly enrolled students in socialising in a more informal setting. All of their interactions involve the participation of authorities. It’s disheartening because, even with that enthusiasm, it’s difficult to create friends online. So, what can be done in this situation? This elicited an unusual response from Nimisha.
“On these virtual classroom platforms, professors frequently leave the meeting at the end of the class rather than ending it for all of the students. This allows us to catch up informally for a few minutes. Discuss the professor, the subject, or anything else that comes to mind.”
Participating in various cultural societies or clubs is another approach to make friends and socialise in a more holistic and engaging way. While it adheres to certain procedural standards, it has become primarily informal for virtual pupils. Students with similar interests are drawn together, enhancing the social and educational opportunities offered by different campuses. According to a listicle published by Cosmopolitan last year, one of the easiest ways to socialise in universities as a fresher is to join these clubs, they’re in existence for you!
“Even if people are allocated hierarchical duties in these societies, that type of demarcation was ineffective in the virtual campus. Because we were all dealing with the same online experience, it was a level playing field for all of us,” says Nimisha. When asked about her experience establishing acquaintances through college organisations and societies, she adds, “This may have added more to my social experience in college until now.”
According to a literature review published by Indiana University’s Journal of the Student Personnel Association, students who participate in clubs and organisations give their college experience more significance and so have much higher levels of interdependence and social skills.
However, different institutions in India have had diverse organisational experiences.
“To be honest, I don’t know much about my campus at this point. It’s just been a week since I arrived. If it happens to be, I’d love to be a part of specific theatre groups and circles,” Abhishek says. “However, I have not been informed of anything of the type as of yet. Our offline classes are scheduled to begin in November, so fingers crossed.”
It’s clear how difficult it is to acclimate online and establish friends when you’re a new student. Is it, however, simple for individuals who spent a few years of their education offline before having to switch to virtual mode? Kartik, a Delhi-based final-year B.Tech student, talks to us about his experience.
“I believe that making new friends is one thing, but keeping them is another. All kinds of relationships must be taken care of,” he stresses. “We maintained in touch for a while after we were abruptly separated in March 2020. We experimented with a variety of online community games. It was enjoyable. But it wasn’t long before we realised we weren’t speaking to each other as much as we used to. Things began to weigh heavily on us.”
So, how does one make and keep friends online?
“I believe that more social media apps, such as Discord, helped me locate others who shared my interests. It’s a server-based system, so anyone from all around the world can participate, and we can start dialogues about topics that we’re interested in,” Kartik adds.
According to this data issued by Protocol, Discord’s user numbers climbed by 47% from February to July, and because of the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals learned that having a place to hang out with their pals is a strong thing.
In a similar vein, Abhishek mentions establishing acquaintances online with people from all over the world. Perhaps the fact that people come from such disparate cultural backgrounds adds to the intrigue of the discussions.
“I did script readings and other theatre-related activities with a group of folks I met online through various workshops. It was a fun time for me because I got to interact with overseas learners as well,” he says.
Whew! Interacting with people in the absence of authority, diverting energies into cultural groups and clubs, online social platforms, and engaging with individuals outside of your immediate vicinity! Is there anything else we need to do to establish friends online?
“I believe it starts with acceptance. Accepting the truth that our world today functions mostly online, epidemic or not. As a result, whether you’re a student or not, getting over your fear and putting yourself out there is a terrific place to start,” Nimisha advises people who are new to the realm of digital socialising.
“Don’t be wary of the new apps on the horizon! Clubhouse has been a revelation for me recently. In real life, I don’t think I’d have met the people or felt the sense of community that I did there. Take chances, even if it isn’t who you are,” Kartik remarks.
While adjusting to your virtual college, making friends online can be simple. Purely keep up with the times in which you find yourself, and you’ll be OK.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.