Students reinvent social functions over video calls

Media Credit: Camille DeSanto | Assistant Photo Editor

Students are organizing virtual birthday celebrations, parties, family reunions and game nights as COVID-19 halts in-person gatherings.

You may be living thousands of miles away from your friends, but that doesn’t mean your 21st birthday has to be spent alone in your bedroom.

As a result of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many large events like concerts, performances and lectures have moved online. Beyond that, personal events like birthday parties, family reunions, dates and happy hours are taking place over Zoom, FaceTime and Skype to safely stay in touch with friends and family.

Here is how four students have taken advantage of video chat platforms to connect with others during the pandemic.

Friendship across state lines

Rising junior Hana Hancock said she organized a digital birthday surprise for her friend’s 20th birthday in early April, which helped her keep her relationships strong while people practiced social distancing.

“She was really shocked and a little emotional because we were all separated,” Hancock said.

Hancock said she and six other friends joined a call on Zoom to catch up since leaving GW, but about an hour into the conversation, Hancock surprised her friend celebrating the birthday with a slideshow displaying pictures of their time together at GW.

“We wanted to show her that we want to celebrate her, and that we love her and we’re still thinking about her despite not being together,” she said.

Hancock said the ideal night out would have consisted of a residence hall party or a dinner at one of her friend’s favorite restaurants, but Zoom enabled her to present a gift without seeing her in person.

Family reunions turn digital

Rising sophomore Maria Cueto Vélez said she has used Zoom to keep in touch with her family in the Dominican Republic while she quarantines.

Cueto Vélez said she previously traveled to relatives’ homes on weekends to cook, but they are now using Zoom to catch up. Every week, she and her family plan a list of topics to discuss for the next meeting so they never run out of things to talk about, she said.

Cueto Vélez said the virtual meetings help bring her family closer together. Video calls usually last for a few hours each and include up to 15 family members, she said.

“I feel like we’re closer because when I was in D.C., I wasn’t really talking to my extended family,” she said. “So now that we’re all quarantined, we’re finding an excuse to talk to each other.”

Game night over Zoom

Just because there’s no more trivia night at Tonic doesn’t mean you have to give up game nights, rising junior Lizzie Irwin said.

Irwin said she and six other friends organized a virtual game night just after spring break with online activities like a Pictionary challenge and a virtual adaptation of Cards Against Humanity. The group played games for four hours, from 8 p.m. to midnight, she said.

“I think we wanted to catch up in a fun way versus doing another Zoom call and just talking – there wasn’t much conversation left, I guess,” Irwin said.

The group couldn’t share snacks or cocktails during the game night, but Irwin said being able to spend time with friends over Zoom helped them connect with each other when the semester moved online.

“It really does feel like sometimes you can’t hang up because it’s as close to socializing as possible,” she said. “It’s just one of those cool things where you can show your friends your childhood bedroom.”

A virtual rager

Having just been evacuated from her study abroad experience in Spain, rising junior Zoe Kusnick said she was lonely at home in Nevada, so she used her 21st birthday as an excuse to throw a drinking party for nearly 50 people over Zoom.

“I also thought it was funny because I have a lot of friends that don’t know each other, from when I studied abroad and from like home and school,” Kusnick said. “So I thought, ‘let’s just put them all in a Zoom together and see how they do.’”

Besides watching “Never Have I Ever” videos on YouTube, Kusnick said she found a website where she and her guests could all play the drinking game King’s Cup. Naturally, the night of fun resulted in a large group of intoxicated college students, she said.

“I think there was a range of drunkness, because some people weren’t drinking at all, but some people came on at the beginning and stayed to the end and drank with me,” she said.

Kusnick added that if she were to throw another virtual party, she would gather a few friends who all know each other to avoid awkward interactions in a large video call.

“Like any large video call, it is so stressful, especially because I was the only person that everybody knew,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure on me to talk a lot, which I do already, but it was still scary.”

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