Friendships at a Distance

Students struggle to find and maintain relationships in a purely digital world

From left to right: Sophomores Alex Yee, Reya Yeddula, Belinda Ho, Kelly Nguyen, Katherine O’Neill and Kaitlyne Nguyen pose for a photo prior on the last day of semester one of the 2019-2020 school year. (Photo courtesy of Reya Yeddula.)

Students at UPA have spent all of the COVID-19 pandemic with little to no physical interaction with peers and teachers from school after campus closed mid-March 2020. Left to put their technology to good use, they accepted that phone calls and social media were some of the only ways to actively communicate with one another.

“Because of COVID, I don’t really talk to everyone as much as I would if I was in regular classes,” sophomore Reya Yeddula said. “I have only been able to talk to the ones I was super close to before, but it was through text, Instagram or FaceTime.”

Communicating through text is one way to stay connected, but it can be limiting once it becomes the only source of communication. Not being able to see each other in person has weakened several student relationships because the standard amount of human interaction people expect and need is missing.

“It has made it harder to make connections and meet people,” sophomore Meghan Earle said. “It is much easier to get to know somebody face-to-face rather than through a screen.”

While Zoom can help people connect virtually with peers and teachers, it can only take students so far in forming or maintaining friendships. Earle is a new student at UPA and has not officially attended campus yet, so she has been attempting to bond and make friends over Zoom. Because there is no time to socially interact or bond with peers during class, students are left to connect with each other via collaborative assignments. According to Earle, it has been hard to get to know her new classmates online, and she is interested to see how everyone acts in person.

Struggling to continue friendships after lacking the necessary social interaction for so long, Yeddula thinks that it will be easy to continue friendships once students attend school on campus, and she is excited for the chance to strengthen the relationships she does have. Junior Janlex Carpio, however, thinks that there will still be minimal interaction, and the campus dynamic will never be the same as it was prior to COVID-19.

“Post-pandemic, I think it will be a little hard to make new friendships and stay friends with the current ones,” Carpio said. “I became accustomed to being at home and just texting people online.”

Because students have been limited to several forms of technological communication for almost a year, some habits such as using technology as the sole communication method are going to be a little more difficult to break. Now that there is a visible light at the end of the tunnel, students are hopeful for reunions as UPA finishes its transition to hybrid learning.

“I think it will be great because I haven’t seen people in so long,” Yeddula said. “We haven’t been to school in forever. I’m excited to talk to the people I wasn’t already close with.”

Correction: Katherine O’Neill’s name was originally incorrect. The information has been updated, and Aquila regrets the error.