I asked a psychologist about what it’s like to be a college student during the pandemic


August 29, 2020

The pandemic has presented a unique obstacle to all our lives, whether that be taking care of a loved one, loss of a job, family members stranded abroad, or even just struggling to stay home for months on end, it’s been difficult for all of us. One struggle that I think a lot of people can relate to at the moment is the virtual college scenario.

My university decided to go online for this semester, a decision I completely support, but some universities have decided to bring students back to campus under strict health guidelines. Multiple covid-19 tests a week, limited social gatherings, grab-and-go meals, and the possibility that at a moments notice if things get worse students should be ready to pack up and leave campus!

These guidelines are all in the best interest of the safety of everyone at the university, but of course they’re not ideal. How do freshmen meet people if they eat, sleep, and work alone in their rooms? What do international students do if they are told to pack up and leave within 24 hours? There are a lot of questions and worries that college students may have at the moment. That’s why I decided to ask a psychologist about this virtual environment and what students can do to make it feel as comfortable as possible.

I’ve worked with the Expat Kids Club multiple times, and they are always so supportive of my work and willing to help out. I want to say a huge thank you to them for providing their psychology expertise to this post, especially Kate Berger who helped organize this and Deniz Keskinel who answered all the questions in this interview.

Without any further introduction, let’s get into the interview!

Under normal circumstances what advice would you give to someone (especially someone in their college years) who’s trying to settle into a new home?

It’s really important to build a social support network. Reach out to people, and create a community and a sense of belonging. Create a routine for yourself in your daily life. Even if you’re working from home, change out of your pyjamas, make your morning cup of coffee, and have a designated working space separate from your bedroom. Continue some of the traditions you did back home. If you had special family dinners on Sundays, continue that with your roommates, or suggest such events to the new friends you make.

It can be hard moving into a whole new place-unfamiliar environment, maybe a different language, culture, new people. Be kind to yourself if the adjustment takes a little bit of time, and you find some things like studying hard to do. Self-compassion is very important, and it’s natural to struggle during these transition periods. Talk to people who can support you and talk to your new connections who are probably going through similar things as you are!

On the other hand, it’s a very exciting opportunity! Expat kids are already used to relocating, however college years mean a move on their own this time. Embarking on their journey with getting to choose what they want to study, having their first apartment perhaps, cooking or doing laundry for the first time, will all be different than the moves they’ve done the other times. I do think that expat children will have an advantage, as they’ve experienced starting over and building that social support network from scratch; they’ve experienced different cultures and how to be respectful and open minded towards new people and experiences. One of the biggest positive sides of college is the fact that it’s often very diverse. While before in some moves, you might have felt isolated and different from others, college is a place where everyone finds themselves and people who share some of your different life experiences or hobbies.

With Covid-19 and the changes to social life at college what do you think are the biggest challenges students will face? How do you think these can be avoided?

Building a social support network and having a sense of belonging might be the biggest challenges! I think it’ll be very important for students to connect with each other online, and build an online community as much as possible. Universities are preparing and strategizing on ways to build this sense of community with the new Covid-19 rules, but I find that in university, you have to be the one finding and going after these resources they offer. You have to do a bit of digging at times, but most colleges offer good services such as an orientation week (although most are happening online this year, it can be a great way to know other students and your university), social events, buddy programs, networking events with professors, and mental health support. Join these events and make use of the resources they’re offering!

I think that part of learning to live in a new place and feeling comfortable is that sense of community and routine. Since students around the world are being told to ‘settle in’ but be prepared to leave quickly if there’s a second wave, what do you think are some good ways to still settle in quickly and make a place feel like home?

Bring some objects from back home that you can easily carry around. I have a mug and decorative fishes I hang on the wall I’ve been carrying around everywhere I move to. They have sentimental value and instantly make my new apartment feel like home.

I’ll be living in a different country from my university and that means that I won’t be able to meet up with any students in-person. What is your advice for still building meaningful connections when it has to be done at a distance?

I think video calling provides a great opportunity for creating friendships and meaningful bonds. Sharing your life over video or photos are great ways to get to know each other. Perhaps there will also be students in your country attending the same university abroad that you can find out about! Create WhatsApp groups and organize online events with your classes such as trivia nights. 

After completing my first week of online college I can whole-heartedly agree to the points Deniz brought up. Video calling with friends and putting in the effort to build connections has already started to make me feel more comfortable in this virtual college experience. College students, what are you doing to make this adjustment better? What is your advice for online school? Let me know in the comments!

Another huge thank you to the Expat Kids Club for being a part of this post!

Just a reminder that the graphic in this post is courtesy of my store, Wildflower Studios.

See you next week,

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