University societies have always been an integral part of student life. Navigating the labyrinth of stalls at Freshers Fair with people with all types of hobbies and interests no matter how weird or wacky they are to find other like minded students.
Cultural societies at universities in particular, however, often play a very unique experience for many students if they are originally from places where they were the minority ethnic group. Many people can relate to the surprise of adjusting to a social space where they may have previously been the odd one out and can now bond over their common background with a large group of people at a society event.
I often took for granted the fact that I grew up in London and finding other Bengali or Muslims like myself was never really a challenge and not something I was anticipating when it came to societies once I arrived at university. However, once I realised that the pandemic had robbed first-year students of their fresher’s experience, I became more conscious of the fact that it became less about going out and socialising and more about building one’s identity which societies often aid.
For many people, such societies reconnect them with their roots or with their faith and strengthen in it a very new and exciting way that empowers them as young adults. They provide them with a sense of self-assurance in a world that presents a very one-dimensional cultural worldview that although changing is still behind in adapting to making space for individuals from different backgrounds.
The reason I highlight this issue is that committees across the UK are struggling to ensure the student experience at university is just as fulfilling as it is offline and that students can connect. However, they have never faced an issue like this before, and while their efforts are to be commended in coming up with engaging social activities that can take over platforms like Zoom. It is nonetheless important to acknowledge a unique void for many students for the unforeseeable future.
It is often very difficult to give advice in these circumstances however, my best tip would be to make the effort to attend social events that you planned on attending before they were virtual. Avoid expecting to leave the events with a bunch of new friends and the same goes for offline interactions. Focus on building even just one quality and genuine bond and make the effort to check in with the people you have managed to meet. Remember that they are in the same boat as you and empathy and confidence go a long way.