Spending time with friends and peers is considered essential to college life. But the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have pushed everything online, from education to socialising among students. In these tough times, students have come up with innovative ideas to make up for the lack of real life interactions in classrooms and on campus. Welcoming juniors with a freshers' party and giving a warm farewell to the final year batch are rituals that many colleges follow. But with restrictions in place, such events have become virtual in colleges and universities. Google Meet has turned into a stage, with karaoke performances, online games, dubsmashes and more.
The Biochemistry Department students of Andhra University recently held a farewell party for their seniors whom they met briefly in person when the university opened up for a couple of weeks. However, they were soon asked to vacate the hostels before the second wave hit. "When our seniors were about to finish their course, we felt that they should be given a proper send-off, at least online. We wanted to wish them all the best for their future. So, we planned everything among ourselves in our students' WhatsApp group. We came up with a plan, and assigned at least one performance each to the students. We mostly recorded the performances, and they came up with memes, dubsmashes, songs, dances and more. We played all this one by one like a presentation so that everyone could sit comfortably and enjoy themselves at the same time. We also had some fun online games in between," says Vikas Kanumuri, an MSc Biochemistry student in the first year of the course.
The students say that many of the freshers, who've not had the opportunity to meet each other and make friends, feel lonely and isolated in their journey through the course.
"We had a virtual freshers' party for our juniors once we became certain that we wouldn't get to meet them in person by the time we graduated. We wanted it to be a very informal occasion where we would cue them into course-related issues, the campus and things like that. But more than that, we also wanted to just get to know them and reassure them that we're there for them, and that they're not alone," says Apoorva Tripathi, an MA student of Comparative Literature at the University of Hyderabad.
Apoorva adds that the idea actually came up when the Head of Department, Sowmya Dechamma, heard that the students from the new batch were feeling alone, detached, and stressed out. It was her suggestion that the seniors do such an event.
The dress code for the event was "comfy and cozy", and the students also played many online games apart from hosting events.
âOne was a 'show and tell' event where the participants had to talk about an object that was a source of comfort for them and had helped them get through the year. We also played a game in which we showed pictures from movies and TV shows and people had to come up with a fun meme," says Apoorva, who organised the event. The parties, which last for about two to three hours, involve a lot of planning and preparations, say the students.
There are also large-scale events where thousands of students meet and catch up with each other. Students from the IBS conducted week-long celebrations for freshers online under the supervision of Prof Madhavi Garkaparthi. It was called âFictriXster - Trick Your Way Outâ, with the seniors conducting about 25 online events and competitions on various days.
âTo be honest, at the start, it was not believable that we could do the events online, but then as they say, necessity is the mother of invention and a few inventions turn out to be very beautiful and surprising. Right from naming the freshers2K21 as âFictriXsterâ, and the students participating in groups for more than 25 events in a week, it was a wonderful experience,â says Anurag, an MBA student from IBS (ICFAI Business School).
Though the students have been pulling off virtual events, they keenly miss campus life. âIt's been a month since our MA ended and a part of me is still there in my room at the hostel. That's how much I miss it. Catching up with batchmates actually happened at the quarantine facility set up in the University of Hyderabad, when we went to the campus for a brief period of time. We talked about what we did at home in the past year, how our dissertations are going, campus gossip, and about the students' union,â says Hyma, another student from the University of Hyderabad.