First-year University of Victoria students, both on and off campus, are feeling unsure of their year ahead. (Facebook/University of Victoria)

First-year University of Victoria students, both on and off campus, are feeling unsure of their year ahead. (Facebook/University of Victoria)

First year University of Victoria students face a vastly different ‘university experience’

First years at UVic are feeling frustrated with online classes and virtual friendships

With the vast majority of classes online, residence at half-capacity and many students choosing to stay at home, University of Victoria first years are feeling uncertain they’ll get the full “university experience”.

During a normal year, the first couple weeks of September are spent moving into dorm rooms, attending frosh week events, making friends, finding classes and, more often than not, doing quite a bit of partying. Of course, the coronavirus has changed all of that.

Students who made the decision to stay on residence, despite the circumstances, say campus feels empty and it’s hard to make friends.

“It’s really hard to make friends because — at least in the cafeteria where you would normally be talking with people — you’re really far from anyone who’s there. It’s kind of just you sitting alone,” said Aidan Callender, who chose to move from Ontario and stay in residence because his parents were moving to B.C. anyway and the university rowing team wanted him to come.

In addition to being spaced out in the cafeteria, students are only allowed to have one person in their room at a time, can’t gather in groups of more than 50 people and have to wear masks and practice social distancing whenever they are around other people.

Because it’s so hard to meet people in person, many students have turned to creating online groups and chat rooms.

“Everyone’s connecting online and a lot of group chats have been made for different faculties or people with common interests. So I’ve actually gotten to know quite a few people already, even though I haven’t been able to meet them in person,” said P.J. Matheson who is staying on campus so she can attend her in-person visual arts classes.

UVic has also launched an online program to help first years connect, called New Student Connect. In it, an upper-year student, or Engage Leader, connects students with a group of peers in their faculty and leads them through online bonding exercises and ice breakers. The Engage Leader will check in with their group of students regularly throughout the year.

Callender hasn’t found meeting people online so easy though. “It’s just really hard to get a good idea of someone and who they are.”

In an attempt to make some friends, Callender decided to attend an outdoor party last Friday night (Sept.11) — where Saanich police reported breaking up a group of 50 to 80 people.

“I know deep down that that’s something that no one really should be doing. These massive groups with no masks, is definitely not a good idea. But it has probably happened every day since day one,” said Callender who has promised himself he’ll limit going out to Fridays with a small group of people.

For students who aren’t stay in residence this year because of COVID-19 restrictions, they hope students who are lucky enough to be there understand the privilege.

Justin Salinas, who decided to stay living at home in Richmond, said he feels he’s missing out on the opportunity for a fresh start and to grow as a person. To him, the more students in residence choose to party the longer classes will have to be online and people like himself won’t be able to attend in person.

“It’s hard for all of us right now because we feel like we aren’t connected, but if we keep on partying it’s not going to get better for any of us,” he said.

Salinas, and many other students, are also worried that having all online classes will lessen the value of their experience. Salinas explained that his French course was supposed to be six hours of lectures a week, but now that it’s online there are two hours of lectures and the rest is self-directed learning.

“Even just navigating the online stuff,” said Salinas. “Everything is in so many different places. Everyone is confused.”

Callender worries that online classes have made it more difficult to ask professors questions and put way more responsibility in the hands of students.

“Yes, I was told in high school that ‘no one’s going to remind you in university’, but now that’s really in effect. No one, no one will remind you,” he said.

jane.skrypnek@blackpress.ca