The past few weeks have been challenging, to say the least. The difficulties presented by the already fluid schedule of college life have only been exacerbated by the fact that I never technically have to leave my bedroom if I don’t want to. This flexibility makes it easier to procrastinate, shortens my attention span and all but kills my motivation. To add to it, the lack of human contact, or repeated contact with just a few humans, has made this somewhat dull routine even more mundane.
Some things I miss in particular are being able to connect with new friends over homework, going to professors’ office hours and eating meals or studying with close friends. While I do feel extremely lucky to be quarantining with some wonderful people who keep me sane, I do wish there were more opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and form more meaningful connections with new people.
Earlier this week, I received a message from someone in one of my classes that read, to paraphrase, “we don’t know each other but you seem friendly; I don’t know anyone else in this class so I was wondering if you might want to study or work on problem sets together.”
I can’t begin to explain how much I smiled reading that. For a second, things seemed a little more normal. Later in the week, I was paired with someone I didn’t know for a project that involved us spending some time together on Zoom. Within minutes, we were sharing anecdotes and laughing over our shared confusion. I can already tell that we’re going to be great friends.
I also dropped into a professor’s office hours earlier this week. It seemed awkward; I was definitely initially nervous about popping into someone’s personal meeting room, but I mustered the courage to hit connect. When I joined, I was the only one, and the professor wasn’t looking directly at his screen and didn’t see me. I waited a minute before I worked up the nerve to say hi. He immediately turned to give me his full attention, and before I could bother asking the question I came prepared with that I already knew the answer to, (I felt like I needed a reason to be there when in reality that wasn’t the case) he asked how I was adjusting to online classes, and we fell into a seamless and genuine conversation.
What I’m trying to say is that we’re all in the same boat. I’ve been really lucky with my student organizations transitioning to virtual spaces with minimal difficulty and friendly classmates and professors reaching out, but I realize now that I could easily take that first step myself. All it takes is a short message to a friendly face on Zoom about a shared interest or class, and you might have made a new friend. You never know. So, here are a few tips for connecting virtually:
First, smile! There’s plenty to smile about, even in this crazy time, but if nothing else, laugh at your professor’s dad jokes and try to have a positive attitude every morning. Our post-coffee, energy filled faces are much more approachable than the drowsy “I-don’t-want-to-be-here” versions.
Second, make eye contact! When you’re talking to someone on Zoom (especially one-on-one), try and look at their face if it’s under or near your camera, or just look straight into the camera. Eye contact, even on video calls, makes a world of difference. I have a second monitor and have to remind myself constantly to talk into the camera and not off into what seems like the air to the person I’m speaking to.
Third, don’t be afraid to make the first move. What’s the worst that happens? Someone doesn’t respond? I can almost guarantee that your classmate or professor wants to hear from you because they too are confined to a small space with few people. A sample message could be as simple as, “Dear Professor, I was wondering if you had some time to talk a little more about [insert topic here]” or “Hey, I don’t know too many other people in this class, would you want to talk through some concepts before the midterm?”
I should add that reaching out doesn’t always have to be about something academic; you could connect over a student group, a love of pasta or anything, really. I messaged a new friend on Zoom to say that I liked their shirt, and we’ve been sending each other links to fun online sales all week. A little kindness goes a long way, and a small gesture could be the beginning of a lifelong friendship or mentorship.