One of the cornerstones of the post-secondary experience is the opportunity to form lasting friendships and become part of a wider community. This is especially true for international students, who often arrive in a new country without knowing anyone.
Many students are studying online during the COVID-19 pandemic—often from abroad—making it a challenge to stay connected. For students who are on campus, opportunities to meet classmates outside of class are dramatically reduced. The good news is that schools are finding creative ways to connect students, and they’re all online!
In a recent conversation with some of our partner schools in the United States, Emma Sletteland, International Recruitment and Enrollment Coordinator at the University of Colorado Denver, said that she’s “been pleasantly surprised at the connections that the students seem to be able to make through the virtual format.”
We’ve compiled some great ways for you to stay connected and engaged while studying online.
1. Online Workouts
Now more than ever, we all need to prioritize our mental and physical health. Many schools, including the University of Waterloo, are offering a roster of online health classes that you can attend virtually. Dubbed Online Warrior Workouts after the university’s athletics teams, Waterloo is offering yoga; pilates; stretch, core, and breath; shadow boxing; bodyweight; meditation; core-focused workouts; Zumba; and many more. With all of these fantastic classes on offer, the hardest part will be deciding which ones to attend!
2. Virtual Game Nights
Everyone loves a game night, and just because we’re social distancing doesn’t mean we should forgo them altogether. Pictionary, trivia, board and video games—they all translate surprisingly well to a virtual environment. To help your next game night go off without a hitch, Centennial College suggests downloading the Houseparty app, which has a number of built-in games for you and your classmates to try. This app has really exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic; in the month following lockdown, it had a whopping 50 million new sign-ups! For visual games such as Pictionary, you can use a conferencing platform like Zoom or Google Hangouts. Or, if trivia is more your thing, try Kahoot!
3. Movie or TV Watching Parties
A virtual movie night or TV binge-watching party? You might think it can’t be done online, but many schools included it as part of their virtual orientation week activities this year, and the response was tremendous. If you want to plan your own virtual movie or TV watching party, Teleparty, the app formerly known as Netflix Party, will make it a cinch. First, download the extension for Google Chrome. Next, create a Teleparty event, and invite your classmates (up to 50 can join at one time) by sharing the link. Then, all you have to do is show up at the appointed time and hit the play button on your movie or show of choice. An alternative to Teleparty is Instagram’s Co-Watching feature, which allows you to share your screen while video-chatting.
Tip: To help build anticipation or if you can’t come to a consensus on what to watch, compile everyone’s top picks in a survey and vote! May the best movie win!
4. Student Organizations and Clubs
There have been student organizations and clubs almost as long as there have been post-secondary schools! Traditionally, they have given students the chance to take a break from their studies to meet like-minded individuals with common interests, often outside of their program. While COVID-19 has made holding in-person meetups impossible, the good news is that most are still going strong, and many are recruiting new members virtually. So whether it’s cooking or debate club, academic or entrepreneur club, do a little research into the sorts of clubs and organizations your school has to offer and find out how you can be a part of it.
5. Virtual Drops-Ins
Many schools are offering a range of casual virtual drop-ins. Algoma University, for example, hosts a monthly Virtual Tea Time and International Student Hangouts three times a week via Google Hangouts. The latter is an ideal way to meet other international students who are navigating the post-secondary journey online just like you. And, because these virtual drop-ins are often unstructured and don’t have a set group of regular members, there’s no telling the kinds of meaningful conversations you’ll have and friendships you’ll make. Give one a shot!
6. Online Discussion Boards
The discussion board is a key feature of most online courses, and sometimes participation can even be part of your final grade. Regardless, it’s an excellent way for you to stay connected to your classmates, instructors, and TAs and can help you better engage with what you’re learning. Many students find that discussing course material with a classmate can provide a deeper level of understanding. While COVID-19 makes this more of a challenge, especially if a course is delivered asynchronously (e.g., prerecorded and not in real-time), the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning via the online discussion board can help fill this gap.
Tip: Go beyond merely introducing yourself—post open-ended questions to encourage lively discussion.
Finally, keep your eyes peeled to your school’s social media channels, like Instagram and Facebook, to stay in the loop on the fun virtual activities and events they’re planning to keep you engaged and connected while studying online.