Distance learning. Zoom meetings. Face time chats. The reality is that we are living in a socially distanced world where physical presence is not as common as it used to be. I cannot help but wonder about all of the college freshman embarking on this next chapter in their life without physically being in classrooms and on campuses across the country. For many, college is an exciting time defined by an active social life. However, for some, the idea of making new friends in a new environment can be daunting.
While some college students did move on campus, many across the country stayed home with family to complete their semesters all online. So yes, they are not completely alone, but they still did not get that true college experience many of us adults look back on ever so fondly. And as adolescents, they need more social interaction than any other age group. How will this new crop of students find a way to not only survive, but thrive in college during COVID-19? Here are 5 ways college students can find their own virtual community this school year:
1. Find student organizations– Many student organizations on campus including major specific clubs and honor society’s have also taken their meetings and events online. I recently did a virtual workshop on Mindul Self-Compassion for an on campus organization at the local Orlando university called “Girl Up” that raises awareness for underprivileged womxn and advocates for gender equality. Greek organizations held recruitment events virtually this fall semester so that new members including incoming freshman had a chance to still join despite the pandemic. With a simple search on your school’s website, you should be able to find a list of all active student organizations to join. For example, the University of Central Florida’s list of student run organizations can be found here.
2. Connect with classmates– Typically online classes include discussion boards and ways for you to also see a list of everyone in your classes. It certainly takes some assertiveness and a bit of confidence to work up the courage to reach out, but you might be pleasantly surprised that other student’s are seeking new connections too! Try sending a fellow classmate a message with a question regarding the class to break the ice or an invite to study virtually or even in person if you feel comfortable meeting up.
3. Identify a mentor– Perhaps you know a family friend who is a bit older at your college or maybe you have met someone through a club or organization already that has qualities you admire and/or a good grasp on the college environment and culture. In Greek organizations, new members are typically given a “big” brother or sister who is an older member of the organization that takes a new member under their wing so to speak. A mentor is a great way to learn more about yourself, your major or career field interests and know that you always have someone to confide in.
4. Join a local cause- During these difficult times, it is more important than ever to find ways to help your community. Food banks and local animal shelters are always in need of help and volunteers. Philanthropies and non-profit organizations are not only a great place to meet peers with similar values and goals, but giving back can also help manage your mood and feel good. Volunteering and donating our precious time can bring meaning and fulfillment to our lives. If you are unsure where to start your search of finding the right local cause or volunteer opportunity for you, visit: https://www.volunteermatch.org/.
5. Reach out for support– If you find yourself really struggling this semester with distance learning or your mental health, do not hesitate to reach out to your professors or mental health professionals for support. Teachers and your college counselor center are there to help and can guide you towards the resources you need to truly thrive during your time in college. Remember that you are not only paying for your education, but all of the invaluable resources on your campus. Of course, if you find that your college counseling center is inundated with students, you can also try finding a local therapist through a variety of online directories including Mental Health Match and Open Path Collective. Many therapists can offer student rates and sliding scale options.
One of the biggest factors impacting our mental wellness is having a support system. As humans, we naturally desire connection and belonging. One of my favorite Brené Brown quotes says, “We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” So the truth of the matter is that we are not built to self-isolate in our homes and tiny apartments for days, weeks or months at a time. While we can continue to hold onto hope that things will “go back to normal” in 2021, it is important for us to continue to cultivate new connections and nurture current relationships right now in this “new normal” of 2020.
- Amanda Vargo is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida. She specializes in working with teens and young adults with anxiety, stress, depression, life transitions and low self-esteem.