As cliché as it may sound, these are unprecedented times. But as they say, time and opportunities wait for no one. In the past year, many of us have lived our lives virtually. Like many industries globally, the education sector has been affected by the pandemic. Some students have spent their whole academic year online (Wink! That’s me and so many others). In such a scenario, when one starts a new and intense journey, all the traditional experiences are altered and many aspects seem to suffer or look tough, for example, forging friendships.
New friendships and relationships are often anticipated as a part of the student experience while starting a new academic journey. Engaged schools which are known for their tightly built networks, like ours, always have cohort unity as an attraction to prospective and incoming students. But online and distance learning tends to change things and does pose the risk of said experience being missed. After almost a year, I am proud to say that I have built a community amongst my cohort, without meeting any of them in person until now. We never wanted to be a victim of the situation and miss out on the experience. Here are a few tips, which helped me and many others to form strong bonds.
1. Initiate conversations
In the initial days, make an effort to talk to as many people as you can. Try to initiate conversations, random or specific. The initial phase, be it online or in person, has hiccups for everybody. It becomes easier to navigate them if we try and seek help. Such conversations are a great ice breaker, and also helps you to get to know the other person.
2. Take a genuine interest in the lives of others
Take a genuine interest in the lives of others and make an effort to know them as well as you can. This paves a great way to know who are the ones you would like to know more about. Oftentimes, some conversations start great probably because of enthusiasm, but further exploration tells us our similarities and differences. That might help you to build true and meaningful friendships
3. Find common interests
Being in constant contact tells you what common grounds you have to build your friendships on. It can be a hobby, an interest, or simply a quality or an outlook towards life. You may find something similar, or even complementary. Two people might find they both like cooking and exploring food and could build their relationship on that. Whereas the other two might discover they have talents that can be complementary. One may have the skill to cook wonderfully, and they might have the vision to turn it into a venture! Future visions are a great platform to cherish. The business world has seen quite a few such partnerships which take off very well and lead to success.
4. Keep in touch
Of course, meeting in person is not possible, but using technology is! Carve out time to talk to each other virtually. Video calls are a great way to see and talk face-to-face virtually. If that seems a bit much, phone calls and text messages are a great tool! Use all the technology available and build your village. The mandatory group settings in management courses that are aimed at building teams often turn into something worthwhile. In my personal experience, I have been very lucky to have made such good friends with people in my team that whenever we have our virtual team meetings, we talk more about life and other things, than we would have ever thought! It is a bunch of people I now call friends.
5. Offer emotional support
We have all been affected by the pandemic in or way or another. If we have the capacity, it’s great to provide emotional support for our community. You might not be there to comfort them in person, but being emotionally available over a phone call or a message is always welcome. It is true that relationships that cross the tough tides together become stronger and more durable. Inquire about the well-being of others. Be available to take that call, it might be the one made in distress. Let the other person know that they are important by giving them your most valuable asset, your time.
6. Make plans for the future
Even though we have not met, making plans for when we do keeps it interesting and gives us something to look forward to. Plan that dinner, or that walk, or that hike, or just a potluck! Believe me, it is something each one of us now, is waiting eagerly for! The excitement is in the future and keeps us on our toes for what’s to come.
7. Show gratitude and appreciation
By now we know who are the special people we are really looking forward to seeing! Share kind words, create or buy tiny gifts or mementos for your new friends, it could be as simple as making them a card or buying them a key chain. It need not be expensive, but it needs to be thoughtful as it shows they are valued.
It has been a roller coaster ride and when it began, we were worried about what kind of an experience we would be having. Would we miss out on building our community because of being across the globe? I along with many in my cohort can say we have navigated the online sphere very well and have made some life-long relationships here.
About the Author
Ravijot Kaur is a full-time MBA candidate and the Director of Communications & Media for SFU Beedie’s Net Impact Chapter.