By: Dalet Valles
Published by: The Point Magazine– Fall 2021, Volume 17
Anticipation. Agitation. Angst. These are some of the many feelings that many students, including myself, have felt with the restoration of in-person communication. As a new student on campus, online schooling left me on the outside of many friendships due to the distance that was present when I first began to establish friendships. However, many have experienced similar, yet distinctive ways in which the shift of relationships has impacted them. The change challenged, destroyed, or strengthened several friendships. According to The Wall Street Journal, it takes more than 200 hours to become close friends with another person, which was nearly impossible with the way socialization was structured over the past year.
Loneliness weighed on me when I returned, but I came to discover that I was not alone with these feelings.
With the pandemic overtaking college life, students received a long-anticipated welcome in hopes to regain some of that normality. As Biolans were welcomed back to campus, the eagerness that students entered the school year with was overwhelmed by many difficulties. But despite that, Biolans are hard at work to make the welcome worthwhile.
Communicating through a computer screen for over a year instilled a challenge for connection among many. Besides the workload that comes with being a college student, students now have an enhanced fear of interacting with others. New rules like maintaining social distance in class create tension within interactions.
College sophomores nationwide have been secluded from the rest of the student body for over a year. Starting college online has caused them to feel like second-year freshmen since this is the first year on campus for many of them. Despite that, students have worked to move forward with their friendships as the semester goes on.
Sophomores have made most of their friends through the help of technology and social media, and some fear that friendships were easier online compared to face to face.
“I realized I don’t know how to keep up a conversation,” said sophomore Spanish and psychology major Cienna Lopez.
Switching back has adjusted many viewpoints on how friendships may be valued. Lopez explained that there are certain friendships that she sees as important to keep intact.
“You build more genuine relationships in person than on Zoom,” she said.
Online schooling proved to be disengaging, and being on campus failed to fix that. Biola has welcomed the experience of socializing once again, yet there has been a limitation of togetherness. The fear of contracting COVID-19 and having to abide by school rules has given students multiple hoops to jump through.
With classes switching from in-person to online, many students feel as if there is still a large sense of instability when trying to be socially involved. It is difficult to get a healthy sense of socialization with the fluctuating state that the pandemic continues to create.
“The message has been to stay away from people. This goes against our very nature, which is wired to be in community.”
Leslie Adams, case therapist at Northwestern Medicine, in a statement to Healthline.
Reestablishing community has socially energized many. The Biola Student Life website states that the community is “positive, engaged and always up for anything,” and takes pride in the multitude of activities and connections it offers to the Biola community.
Sophomore journalism major Natalie Hernandez knows the benefits of community connection firsthand.
“There [are] a lot of different moving factors that play into maintaining relationships, and with COVID, it makes it that much harder,” she said.
As someone who is in a long-distance relationship, she said staying connected and communicating is necessary. Engaging in long-distance interactions, which has become a new model of communication, brings excitement when seeing others in person once again, yet the pandemic presents new challenges which hinder that excitement.
Now that people can spend time together in person, the problem becomes planning times to hang out. A friend group needs to consider whether someone is sick or in quarantine. However, if all are well, spending time together has become easier than during lockdown. Friend groups now can get together in public places with social distancing measures in mind.
At Biola, there are a multitude of clubs and organizations for students encouraging students to make connections with others who hold similar interests. If some are still feeling alone in the midst of all the people, Hernandez recommends looking for opportunities of involvement, which can potentially create relationships that last a lifetime.
“Don’t be afraid. Keep looking and keep trying,” Hernandez said.
“Being part of a community is necessary,” said department chair of sociology Stephanie Chan. “Schedule time with people who are intentional. Make sure you have something to do when you are together like eating or doing an activity so it is more than just talking.”
With the complexity that has now come with making plans, many may gain a new appreciation for the moments spent together.
The New Normal
In a survey conducted by Best Colleges, it was found that 46% of college students struggle with loneliness. Even being back in school can cause a sense of feeling alone.
“There are definitely moments where I feel very alone,” Hernandez said. “As a transfer student who started online, I did not have those same relationships other third-years had established.”
It is not out of the ordinary to have a sense of exile while being surrounded by a multitude of people.
“People don’t know what to expect. What we know from sociology is that once a norm has been established, it’s difficult to go back,” Chan said.
The new norm has been mask mandates, keeping a 6-foot distance and even being online. With all the isolation that came with the pandemic, people were allowed to see what is truly valuable. Chan explained that the pandemic allowed for a pause to re-evaluate relationships. Getting distance from relationships revealed which are not worth the effort or which might need changes.
Social interactions have undergone a complete shift. Though it is not as easy as going to the mall or grabbing a quick coffee, friendships have been made stronger amid all the disarray.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” Chan said. “If you find it difficult, reaching out to professors is also an alternative. We love it when students visit during office hours, even if it’s just to talk.”
Social anxiety has become a common occurrence for many. For the community at Biola, the excitement and support have helped overcome all the obstacles. With it only being our first semester back, there will still be bumps in the road. However, with the help of those we surround ourselves with, we will be able to come out of the isolated feelings the pandemic created.
“Social interaction takes a little more effort now,” Chan said. “Give grace.”