An educational institution besides being a place for learning is also a place that fosters social interactions among students. But with schools and colleges shut down and with online classes becoming a norm, there’s little to no room left for these interactions.
Of course, social media has made keeping in touch easier, be it connecting with their friends and family, celebrating birthdays via zoom, to showcasing talents and participating in various virtual events held online.
“People who picked up a new hobby recently, be it playing a new instrument, painting or even cooking have taken to social media to display their skills and maybe even earn a few bucks from it. So there’s a lot of interaction happening virtually as far as meeting and getting to know new people goes,” says Reuban Mascarenhas, student of Don Bosco College Of Engineering, Margao.
But even so, he still miss meeting his friends and relatives physically. And being isolated and in his own bubble for a long time has affected his mental well being quite a bit, leaving him with the need to talk to someone to keep sane. He says: “Luckily for me I have my friends and family to keep me company. I’m one of the lucky ones, but there are others out there with no one to talk to or no one to go to, people who are living alone.”
And online classes, while now the norm, is a different experience, says Alyssa Martins, a student of Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka. “I miss the classroom atmosphere, the coffee breaks, the common food place, the late night submission chaos, barging into classmates rooms and fighting over food, coffee and Maggie moments, etc. Nevertheless, online classes do offer a mode for maintaining the connection,” she says, adding that she and her friends make quarantine birthdays special with late night birthday surprises and videos and e-letters.
To help foster friendships, Martins states that her institute also had a special session with the new joinees. “For the first time ever my department had an introductory session (know thy neighbours) with the FYs on teams platform,” she says. And Martins is optimistic that these trying times will soon pass. “This is a temporary moment and eventually we will meet again in sometime. Till then its Netflix and those random Instagram posts that keep us in contact,” says Martins.
Srushti Prabhudesai who is currently studying at Parvatibai Chowgule College, Margao has also been using social media to stay in touch. But she hasn’t really had the chance to make new friends though. “I just came back from an academic exchange programme so I have met a few friends. For me social media doesn’t really make it half as meaningful as actually hanging out with my friend. So for the time being, I just make myself happy by checking out what my friends are up to through social media,” she says.
Jolan Fernandes, student of St Andrew’s Higher Secondary School, Vasco meanwhile has been making new friends while playing online games. “Even if we are far from our friends and family but still we are connected to our loved ones by just one touch on our mobile phones.”
Student Aashni Rebello of Shraddha Mandir High School, Miramar and her friends too are trying helplessly to stay connected with each other by playing a couple of online games and calling each other when they get the chance. “A ‘few quarantined birthdays’ have also come up during the course of this pandemic. We made videos to tell our friends how much they meant to us. We also had group calls on Zoom on some of their birthdays. Not only are we in the midst of a pandemic, but some are also in the midst of their parent’s perpetual arguments. One of my friends was telling me how school gave them a chance to get away from that,” she says.
Indeed, she says, nothing matches the physical presence of friends and peers, or even her teachers. “During our online classes, we make bets with our teachers on when school would start. Other than studies, we talk to our teachers on a human level and tell them what we’ve been doing during this rather gloomy phase of our life. We joke about the possibility that our farewell could be a virtual one,” she says, adding that having been away for almost six months from their second home has made them long for the days when school would begin.
Indeed, Sheniah Menezes, student of Presentation Convent High School, Margao dearly misses being able to see her friends in person. She even misses sitting in a classroom and the hectic schedule! “These months have been challenging with respect to accepting the fact that I cannot plan meet-ups with my close friends, cannot go out to flea markets, meet new people and socialise in general. But with advanced technology and social media platforms, you can stay close with those who are yet so far,” she says, adding that she hopes that everyone utilises the extra time wisely, carrying out activities they kept pending due to work, school or hectic schedules.