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How can you make friends while learning virtually at university?

University students have struggled to connect with their peers this year, but some current international students share their tips on what helped them make friends virtually

    April 7 2021
    A university student greeting friends on her computer


    One of the biggest challenges that face university students who are studying virtually is how to make friends and connect with fellow students.

    With most classes and social events occurring on Zoom, opportunities to meet new people can be limited. However, making friends isn’t impossible. Here, current international students share ways in which they have made friends through their screens. 

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    Aaryaa, undergraduate student at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London. Studying virtually from India

    The entire first-year class comprises only 107 students at my university. Because of this, we do not have a system of student organisations, so it was difficult to get to know other students in my class. Nonetheless, we took advantage of the small class size to find our own ways to connect virtually. Here are my tips:

    1. Organise virtual games nights

    As architecture students, we don’t have tests; we have jury presentations. We have two jury presentations per term, and after every major jury, we organise an open Zoom call, where everyone is invited to come and celebrate virtually. We post the link on all common group chats.

    To break any awkwardness on the call, we found that Skribbl is the best icebreaker – everyone can laugh at each other’s terrible drawing skills! Two Truths and a Lie and Uno! online are other great online icebreakers. Remember that it’s always helpful to keep your camera on; seeing other faces makes the environment resemble an in-person experience.

    1. Social media is powerful

    It’s easy to follow your classmates on social media, but to genuinely form connections, try to engage actively. React to their Instagram stories, like and comment on recent posts, and send them relatable memes. 

    Social media is a powerful communication tool if used actively, and most of my closest online friendships have stemmed from social media posts. 

    I found it a little stressful initially, but all it takes is the willingness to initiate communication. And remember that you won’t always connect with people instantly, be it in person or online. It takes time to form valuable connections, so be comfortable with the pace of the process.

    Bryan, undergraduate at Stanford University. Studied first semester virtually from Indonesia 

    1. Reach out to people on social media. Initially, this made me anxious because I wasn’t sure how to put myself out there. But after messaging one person, I realised it wasn’t as nerve-racking as I thought it would be. Know that many students are also trying to make connections, so most people will be happy to talk. I enjoyed talking about our common interests and what we looked forward to at university.

    However, you shouldn’t compare your life to what you see on someone else’s social media profile. You’ll see people seemingly thriving in online university, but remember that people will most likely only post about their highlights. 

    2. Your school may organise virtual events that provide first years with opportunities to meet one another. Personally, I only developed a handful of friendships from these events, but they gave me a sense of community. Regularly check in on your newfound friends and have honest, fun and meaningful conversations – this will help build your relationships.

    3. Create group chats for each of your classes and try your best to keep these chats active. For one of my classes, my classmates organised Zoom events such as Halloween night and end-of-term celebrations where we played games and got to know one another more. These made me feel like online university was not a purely academic experience. Forming groups with people who share your hobbies or people from your country, town or state may also help you find friendships. 

    4. Please don’t overload yourself. First semester is difficult in many ways. You’ll need to adjust to a new academic system, learn new content, and experiment with how to strike a balance between school and life. Everyone navigates university life in their own way. The best way to make connections with others is to do whatever you feel is most right for you.

    Linda, undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin

    One way I connected with students at my university was by participating in student organisations. When college began, I researched six student organisations that provided philanthropic, professional and social opportunities. By the end of the first semester, I remained in three organisations that allowed me to make connections and pursue my career interests alongside other students. I recommend sticking to between one and three organisations that you enjoy, and don’t be afraid to leave if it isn’t working for you. 

    There is value in using text or voice-messaging platforms like GroupMe or Discord to create study groups. After finding my confidence, I formulated study groups by reaching out to classmates that I had spoken to previously. We motivated each other and got to know each other.  

    I also found comfort in interacting with students in breakout rooms. Regardless of the class or event, I attempted to maintain an online presence by typing in the chat or by turning on my camera and microphone when necessary.

    Essentially, I tried not to pass up opportunities that would get me noticed in smaller group settings. From there, if we were comfortable with each other, I would reach out to that person or those individuals directly on social media. Don’t get discouraged if the group dynamic is not always there because there will always be more opportunities to connect with your peers.

    All three students are tutors and/or editors at IBlieve, a community of IB students worldwide. 


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