Episode 76: COVID-19 hangouts

In this episode, we speak with students about how they’re maintaining their friendships and spending time with others during the pandemic. Three students tell us about their experiences during the beginning of quarantine and now as they socialize in-person with their pods of friends.

Ava Kian and Yoko Vue

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INTRO MUSIC

AVA KIAN: Hi everyone, I’m Ava Kian. 

YOKO VUE: I’m Yoko Vue, and you’re listening to “In the Know,” a podcast by the Minnesota Daily. 

KIAN: Last March, businesses, schools and other establishments in the United States shut down in-person functions, and people began to quarantine from their loved ones. Ten months later, some people are still taking COVID-19 precautions, but are now seeing pods of trusted friends and family more frequently. We were curious to see what students are doing with their pods, and what is holding their relationships together. 

I spoke with Kyle Hoang, a second-year business student at the University of Minnesota, who recalls how he felt seeing people in person at the beginning of the pandemic.

KYLE HOANG: When the pandemic first started, I was very strict about it. And I was the one who would tell people not to hang out. And I, myself, would not hang out. I would stay in my room all day. 

KIAN: More recently, however, Kyle has started seeing his close group of friends. He says he sees them on the condition that they are all a closed pod. 

HOANG: These were like the first few friends that I have met at the U, that I was able to be really close with. … Before the pandemic, I met them in person and everything. Like, we established that friendship in person, but we spend our friendship more online than in person. 

I remember when we first hung out — like the first time we decided to hang out — we were also nervous, because … we all had like high expectations and … some sort of guilt came over all of us, so we would all still wear a mask even when we hang out.

KIAN: Over time, the group became more comfortable taking off masks. To be extra cautious, Kyle and his friends take precautions before seeing their families.

HOANG: Last semester I didn’t see my family at all. … And so this semester is probably going to be the same. … If I do go back, it does make it complicated. I do try to wait it out for a few days before I decide to go back and see if I develop any symptoms. 

KIAN: Having gone through isolation and now heavy usage of technology for school and socialization, Kyle wants more interactions away from the screens. 

HOANG: I think personally, my mental health has gotten really bad, back when I was still isolating. … I feel like nowadays, the activities that I do with my friends are less wholesome.

I have gotten sick of Zoom, like study sessions. Zoom fatigue happens even when it’s still friends. I think it’s just some type of association I made in my brain. But I really hate zoom. 

Because every time I go on there, I wouldn’t be productive, and I would get grumpy and stuff. … It’s just not a good thing. Like, that’s not how I want to see my friends. 

KIAN: At the height of the pandemic, Kyle and his friends would watch movies or shows online or study together on Zoom. What bonds them, Kyle says, is studying. Having gotten used to online hangouts, seeing friends in person feels formal and unexciting at times.

HOANG: I don’t see them often. Recently, I do hang out with them, but it’s more like I have to go out of my way to plan for it. Like, “Oh, what’s your GCal, what — blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then, it’s like an invitation. It feels like an invitation to a party or something. It’s an extra step I have to do. So, I don’t hang out with them that often. I still study with them online almost every night. … It used to be a lot more spontaneous.

KIAN: Though Zoom and in-person hangs have their ups and downs, Kyle says he’s still able to maintain his friendships. 

HOANG: We don’t always have video calls or video chats. We would message each other and update us about any of our days. If we have a bad day, we tend to share it or rant it to our group chat. … It still feels like a bit less than in-person experience[s], but we still care for each other. …I think technology does — it doesn’t help us get the full friendship experience, but it does keep us there. 

KIAN: Kyle is looking forward to doing wholesome and fulfilling activities with his pod, like learning to knit. 

HOANG: I just know knitting seems really cool. I get to wear what I make.

We have also compiled, started to compile a list of TikToks that we can do together as a group, for either when we’re in person or for when we’re in different parts of the city.

I want to go to a lake with one of my friends and not to just swim, just to chill on the grass and have a picnic. And talk as if it’s not just like a catch-up, but like talk talk. 

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL FADE UP AND UNDER TRACK BELOW

VUE: Many folks miss the summer weather when we could socially distance ourselves while meeting up at a park or lake. During these winter months though, movie nights have been a staple for Isabella Kemling, who’s majoring in mechanical engineering and Spanish.  

ISABELLA KEMLING: I spent a lot of my time with my roommates, we do a lot of like movie nights, little Bachelorette nights there. Then I’m also dating someone. So I spend a good amount of time with them and their roommates too. Those are kind of my main social circles that I’m seeing in person.

VUE: In addition to watching reality TV shows, cooking has been a bonding experience. Almost every Friday, Isabella is baking with her roommates.

KEMLING: One of my favorite moments is right before Halloween, we all made like an apple pie and cut out little shapes out of different kinds of pie crust. So we have the jack-o-lanterns and ghosts and stuff on there. That was kind of fun. We also do a lot of cookies with our baking too. One of my roommates is very into like cookies and cupcakes and cupcake decorating so we’ve done a few different themes for that or different kinds of decorations and things like that. 

VUE: While these relaxing activities can be fun, Isabella said taking precautions with COVID does put on more stress. 

KEMLING: I would say I’ve definitely been a little bit more anxious overall during this time, just with, like I said, it’s always kind of an extra factor when I’m choosing, if I want to like accept plans or go do something with people of like, what are the repercussions on me and my family or my roommates and their family? So I would say that’s been something that’s kind of at least always a little bit on my mind, that wasn’t there before it’s been causing some stress.

VUE: Safety is very important, but Isabella said it can be tricky to put her foot down at times.

KEMLING: I don’t feel comfortable seeing people if they’ve been going out, I don’t know, to large gatherings or bars when bars were open or restaurants a lot and things like that. Um and so I know I’ve struggled a little bit with like social repercussions of that sort of having to say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to see you for 10 days or 14 days,’ or like, ‘Can you please get a COVID test?’ or things like that.

VUE: For the friends she can’t see in person, Isabella keeps up with them over video chat. 

KEMLING: But with people I’m not seeing, I think it’s a little bit harder to stay in touch without putting in like a really intentional effort to. I know there’s certain people that I used to see at least like once or twice a week, we’d go grab dinner or something like that and so kind of friends like that. It’s definitely, at least for me I’ve been working a lot on being more intentional of reaching out to people like that and seeing how they are.

VUE: This also includes family members that she hasn’t been able to see in person.

KEMLING: I would say it’s been really nice in some ways to have more video calls with people and even I don’t know, my family’s been getting like my cousins and my grandma like used to Zoom, so we can all kind of stay in touch with people like that who might not be safe to see. So, I think that’s been really, really helpful for sure. 

NAT SOUND: TRANSITIONAL FADE UP AND UNDER TRACK BELOW

VUE: For second-year student Roselin Victor, technology was a big part of keeping her friendships at the beginning of the pandemic. 

ROSELIN VICTOR: I found like a group of friends my second semester of freshman year, which I’m really thankful for. We were able to maintain the group, like over quarantine at the beginning of 2020, and over the summer and stuff. So I’ve been talking to them for most of quarantine.

VUE: Roselin is living off-campus with her family this year after breaking her lease on campus in the fall due to COVID concerns. 

VICTOR: Obviously with social media and stuff, people portray their best selves online. And so it’s hard to see people partying and all of that during a pandemic when you’re stuck at home with your parents and stuff.

VUE: She said that with COVID, technology is a double-edged sword when it comes to feeling connected. 

VICTOR: I think it’s helped people stay connected because a lot of like, … there’s like people that you would say hi to like on campus, but like, you don’t like FaceTime, so it’s been good to like, maintain that by like sending each other TikToks or whatever, like small things like that.

VUE: Roselin joined the Indian Student Association last March, and through Zoom, she was able to stay close to the members, and the group was able to hold their events virtually.

VICTOR: It was kind of stressful at the beginning, because, obviously, we had no idea what was going to happen with COVID and when it was going to end and if we can even do anything virtually, but I think we handled it pretty well. We tried to stay engaged on social media. We tried having, like, we had a virtual fall show, which was like a YouTube live stream, which went pretty well. It was just kind of hard to have engagement, but I think we did the best to our ability.

VUE: While it was warm in the fall, Roselin and her friends would study outside. But after breaking her lease, she hasn’t been on campus as frequently and instead is hanging out with her friends mainly with Facetime and group chats. 

VICTOR: Well, usually what happens is we were just talking about our days or like, if something dramatic happens, talking about that. For ISA, we have board bonding sometimes where we play games or we just honestly talk about life and like school and show ugly pictures of ourselves from when we were little and things like that.

VUE: A unique way Roselin maintains her friendships is by running errands with friends in a COVID safe way.

VICTOR: One of my friends, Srilekha, she’s actually the president of ISA. She lives like 15 minutes away from me, and we started going to the grocery store together because, like, we’re both going to go to the grocery store anyways. So, it’s not that big of a risk.

KIAN: We’re in a really weird time. Most students are busy with online school and are doing their best to keep up with their friendships. Not everyone is comfortable seeing their friends in person. Those who do that we’ve spoken with take precautions by only visiting a pod of friends and getting tested before seeing others outside the group. Though the winter can be hard, these students are looking forward to having in-person student group events, less screen time, and more socially distanced hangouts outside once the weather gets better. 

FADE UP & UNDER OUTRO MUSIC 

PALMER: In other U news: Humphrey School fellow Dr. Bonnie Jenkins has been nominated to Biden’s administration as a national security undersecretary; Republic on West Bank has officially closed, with plans to reopen in another location in the future; and new research from the U shows that using CBD while pregnant can have long-term effects on children. We’ll see you next week. 

PALMER: Music in today’s episode was provided by FreeSound.org.