Feeling disconnected from their friends, isolated from the student community and unable to make new friends through online classes, the digital learning phase has deeply affected NYU Shanghai students’ social lives.
The new learning phase marked a pivotal turning point for the students and abruptly changed their social sphere. They went from interacting on a daily basis inside the Academic Building and Residence Halls to having to live with family again back in their homes and adjusting to a new routine of attending classes online. Maintaining good academic progress has been challenging enough in this time, but what’s proven equally hard for students is maintaining a close connection with the NYU Shanghai community.
The NYU Shanghai student body is made up of diverse nationalities who had to return to their home cities and countries which meant that this semester required most students to be physically separated from their friends and peers.
So, how exactly has the digital semester affected the students’ social lives and, most importantly, how are they able to socialize, interact and connect under these special circumstances?
To gather more information, a survey was sent out and completed by 20 NYU Shanghai students with thoughts on the matter
An overwhelming number of respondents, 90%, reported that the new online classes format had affected their relationships with friends at NYU Shanghai in some way.
When asked if the online classes format has had a negative effect on their friendships, 57.9% reported Yes and 42.1% reported No.
Some students find that it’s more difficult now to interact with their friends, as Yunqi Song, Class of 2020, explained.
“Of course digital learning has affected my friendships. There are no physical opportunities to meet. I’m personally not good at texting people and I don’t like texting. Right now I’m probably video calling my friends instead of the easy access to meet people everyday.”
Other seniors share the same sentiments. “On campus we would sit, talk and do homework together. Since we are all studying at home, it’s very hard to continue to talk to my friends even online since everyone is busy with their stuff,” said Han Jiayu, Class of 2020.
Other students like Claire Noble-Randall and Stephanie Scaglia shared more mixed feelings of how digital learning has affected friendships.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily affected negatively, in the sense that we have become more distant, because I don’t think we have. But for example accessibility to friends is not there. I can’t just go out for a meal with my friends,” said Noble-Randall, Class of 2020.
Sophomore Scaglia feels the situation is two-fold. “I don’t interact with them as much. I wouldn’t say it’s affected it much, because everyone’s understanding and it’s not like you’re replacing your friend. Everyone’s a little distant together, but your close friends are still close.”
During this time, students are using different platforms and different ways to connect to one another. The three most used methods and platforms used by NYU Shanghai students for keeping in touch are WeChat (92.3%), Instagram (84.6%) and Video Calling (69.2%).
Sophomore Chiharu Taniguchi talks more about how she connects with her friends.
“My friends and I are actually taking the same courses. We are all chatting online to each other, we do video calls, and we make sure that we are on the same pace in the courses,” she said. “We are studying a lot and we spend a lot of time studying together.”
Senior Claire Noble-Randall says that alongside video calling friends, she uses a game platform called Plato.
While the majority of students at NYU Shanghai are living at their homes, some have chosen to spend more time together during the semester. Seniors Risha Hoag and Frederick Morlock decided to live together for a month and take the online classes together.
Risha says the digital format hasn’t affected her too much. “I’m hanging out with one of my friends. It has kind of changed the dynamic of some friendships, but on a day to day basis I’m hanging out with my NYU Shanghai friend 24/7,” she said, sitting next to Frederick.
He, on the other hand, thinks otherwise. “For me, it has affected my relationship with friends. Right now, I don’t really talk to anyone except for Risha. Now it seems it’s so much easier to put off talking to a friend online.”
The ‘digital semester’ has not only changed the way NYU Shanghai students are interacting with their close friends. Most respondents, 76.9%, reported the online classes format has not offered opportunities to meet and make new friends.
For many classes, the professor and the students will meet through Zoom. For classes that meet asynchronously, students have to read materials, watch videos and complete assignments without any contact with other classmates.
“I don’t know anyone who’s in any of my classes,” said Frederick Morlock. “They’re all asynchronous and through Voice Thread. Occasionally someone will post a comment. A name will show up only with no face and no interaction between students.”
For students who do have Zoom meetings, it is also difficult to make new friends. “We have Zoom meetings, but I haven’t personally reached out to anyone in the class,” said Chiharu Taniguchi.
“When I go to class now, I go just to learn the class and not to get to know other people,” said Yunqi Song.
Senior Han Jiayu says that holding asynchronous classes feels like she is talking to an “invisible peer.”
“It’s very difficult. If you talk to them in person, it would be more productive. It’s hard to interpret one’s mind online, (but) in person they can explain what they mean immediately. It’s weird, because when you read the discussion and see the name of the people who have posted, there’s just the name and you can’t connect it to any real face.”
As students try to navigate and cope with the current situation to the best of their ability, other NYU Shanghai students are trying to keep the community closer together by organizing some of their events online.
On March 28, the 88 Graduation Countdown, a special celebration for graduating seniors, was hosted by the Commencement Committee for the first time through a livestream platform. It was attended by 2778 NYU Shanghai students, their families and staff.
Students clubs are also organizing different events online that you can follow through weekly e-mails. NYU Shanghai is also organizing events through the Student Health Center, ARC etc.
These activities can alleviate some of the negative feelings related to the situation. But students can only hope to return to campus as soon as permitted to continue their academic path as it is intended, among their NYU Shanghai friends.