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Making friends in a pandemic 101

Gözdenur AYYILDIZ, from Turkey, is an international student doing her Master's in New Media and Society at VUB. She explains how she made new friends during the pandemic to celebrate the International Day of Friendship (30 July).

In most cases in life we have 2 options: stick with the “safe” way or do the risky thing. I began my Belgian adventure in late September 2020. As I arrived late, I missed multiple meetings, picnics, parties already. And after my 14 days of quarantine ended, guess what? The code switched to red. How to meet people and make friends now? 

I felt like Scrat, the squirrel in the movie Ice Age who falls from one mishap into the next while trying to get an acorn. And I needed to change that! So, I first joined my master’s social media groups, and attended online game nights. Was I successful? YES! Not in the game though, but in getting to know special people. 

At one of the online game nights, I met this killer (both in Among Us and in real life) Russian lady, Katya. After losing a few games to gain her trust (sure, that is the only reason; I definitely do NOT suck at Among Us), we met to have a few drinks. And that is how a friendship started! She was the first person I met from VUB. And she is now my go-to person for smiles and help. That is why when I decided to write this article about friendship, I ran to her.

Here are some insights about making friends in the midst of a pandemic, extracted from our 2-hour conversation and excluding all gossip:

With the pandemic RULES CHANGED for many things, including friendships. Before the pandemic, when meeting new people, Katya reckons less effort was needed: “You would talk to the person sitting/working next to you.” Then she adds, “during the pandemic, maintaining the old friendships and starting new ones becomes harder.” I agree to an extent. But the pandemic increased the possibility and opportunity to get to know people that are not in your everyday environment. No? Well, I have introverted friends who found their BFFs after joining a Facebook group that organises random corona-free meetings. And here I was thinking that Facebook was dead. I could not have been more wrong! Apparently, Facebook has groups for EVERYTHING and EVERYONE (Not sponsored J).

Another way to meet people is the platform Meetup. It’s used for finding and building local communities with people with shared interests. If you prefer having long conversations before meeting up, Bumble BFF mode might also be a good option. Or VUB students can just check what our university has to offer, like lovely VUB Buddies and Digibuddies! Lastly, we suggest you attend as many digital events as you can even if it may get exhausting after a while. For us, participating in different activities, despite them being online, improved our quality of life in these difficult times. For most of these, you really need to have an active digital presence. Additionally, Katya and I agreed that another must-have is a proper real profile picture otherwise you can seem like a creep.

Katya was surprised when I mentioned that having online meetings boosted my old friendships, increased the quality of actual meetings, and saved so much travel time (time that was later spent on TikTok). Apparently, for her, an online meeting is like “watching Youtube":  It can be fun but “it lacks real eye contact, physical touch, and fulfilment on a deeper communication level…”. I’m happy for her now that the restrictions have been lifted so she's not stuck with online meetings anymore. I’m happy for us, as now when we meet, we can fully enjoy Belgium!

In any case, pandemic or not, real university life is all about the friends you make along the way, in person or online. Happy International Friendship Day!