Adjusting to life at a new school and making friends freshman year is already hard enough, throw a global pandemic into the mix, and the entire college experience drastically changes. For freshmen at the University of Maryland, their first semester at college during the coronavirus pandemic has posed many challenges, and has left most wondering, “how can I put myself out there?”
In an unprecedented time of distancing and isolation, finding innovative and safe ways to make the most out of freshman year is more important than ever. Susan Steinberg, a school psychologist based in New Jersey, said that maintaining some form of social interaction, even if just through technology—Zoom, FaceTime—can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety that adjusting to college in a pandemic might induce.
Steinberg stressed the importance of friendships, stating that, “spending time with friends engaging in desirable activities has been studied and proven to increase self-esteem and happier moods, overall.”
“It is so important to take advantage of opportunities afforded to join social groups that are offered via Zoom and join activities that gather outdoors,” said Steinberg.
At the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, the university issued many regulations and precautions in correspondence to the CDC’s guidelines. Moving most classes online, limiting capacity in residence halls, and mandating social distancing has disrupted the college social experience, which is beneficial for students’ health, happiness and future.
Freshman Lisa Walsh, who has yet to declare a major, explained that the guidelines have posed challenges when meeting friends, with new rules regulating the number of people allowed in dorm rooms. “You couldn’t just go and introduce yourself to people on your floor,” Walsh said, “you had to find groups outside”.
While this year at Maryland may look different, there are still ways for freshmen to interact in new, meaningful ways.
One way Walsh has found success in meeting friends this year was through the University of Maryland Facebook group. In addition to the Facebook group, other media outlets facilitate social connections useful for freshman navigating their first year. For example, the app Bumble has a ‘BFF’ function that connects users with potential friends nearby and creates meaningful friendships.
With warmer weather approaching in the spring, freshmen can benefit from outdoor, socially distanced activities, and by making efforts on and off-campus. Going on walks throughout campus, meeting people for meals in the dining hall and doing work on Mckeldin Mall, are simple and safe ways to get a group of friends together.
The spring semester at Maryland also brings opportunities to join clubs, participate in club sports and join Greek life. Getting involved around campus is a great way to meet new people and create a sense of community in our isolated world.
Although there are many opportunities around campus to assist in building friendships, freshman year can still be scary, and gaining the confidence to send a text to meet for lunch isn’t always easy.
Carly Sherman, a freshman public health major, has enjoyed her year so far and has found success making friends in her first semester. She advises her classmates to “not be afraid to reach out to people or go up to people and talk to them.” “Everyone is in the same position and is looking to meet people and make new friends,” Sherman said.
This unusual school year has pushed many students out of their comfort zone. If you're feeling worried and stressed about making friends, remember that likely everyone else is too and you’re not alone. While there are many resources available to assist freshmen, the most important thing is to be bold, be open and be able to embrace the awkwardness -- it may not be easy but it will be worth it.