How do I get involved on campus even though everyone has to be distanced? I feel like whenever I approach anyone, they turn the other way. I have friends, but I want to make new ones, and I don’t want COVID to have the final say. I don’t have a lot of extra time to spare, but I want to get to know people. What do you recommend?
A Wannabe Social Butterfly
Dear A Wannabe Social Butterfly,
I understand exactly where you’re coming from. Normally at this time of the year, my social calendar is booked, and I am constantly meeting, greeting and snapping selfies with new friends. Unfortunately, the only new friend I’ve met in a while is named coronavirus – and, to put it politely, she has quite outstayed her welcome. So, let’s first acknowledge what most of us are probably already thinking: This is terrible. And now let’s focus on some solutions to make the terrible, bearable. (I’ll start by apologizing for that rhyme.)
This semester is unconventional, so your social solutions are gonna’ have to be a little unconventional too. My first piece of advice is something my mom has always told me: If you need a friend, be a friend. Look for someone who really, really needs somebody—and become their buddy. These days it’s hard to spot a lonely classmate when you’re seeing their tiny square on Zoom. But there are still some people who are desperately lonely and you can become their friend without ever seeing their face (I did say it would be unconventional). Butterfly, grab your pen and paper and become pen pals with someone who needs a little encouragement – like an elderly resident in a nursing home or an inmate in prison. Without visitors, their circumstances have become even lonelier. And studies show that helping others actually makes us happier!
Next, try a change of scenery. Start by studying in a new place. Try the library or a coffee shop that you don’t usually go to. With many safety measures put in place and a mask, it’s safe to get a new view, if you’re comfortable. Even if you’re not meeting anyone exactly, being around other people can improve your mood and help you get out of your head a bit.
Another option is to join a student organization or club. While many campus organizations aren’t meeting in-person, several are still having regular meetings via Zoom. Zoom isn’t the same, and it’s not ideal – but it’s still social interaction. Consider joining a club that in “normal” times you might not have. Who knows, you might find a really cool group of people. And if not, hey, you tried!
My final piece of advice is to meet new people outside of campus. See if there are video game groups, book clubs or Bible studies (depending on your interests) that are meeting virtually or with social-distanced measures in place. Join an exercise class, (I’ve heard that there is no energy quite like that of a 6 a.m. Zumba class.) And, take time to intentionally connect with your already-established friends. As a golden rule in my own life, I make sure I have one meaningful conversation a day – whether that is with my mom, my roommate, a professor, the cashier at the grocery store or an old friend.
You might be busy, and socializing might be way harder than usual, but COVID can’t cancel human connection. It doesn’t have the last word—you do.