Finding Home in Online Spaces

By Lucy Pan ‘24

When the COVID-19 pandemic first started back in March of 2020, I could’ve never imagined that it would completely change the course of my entire first year of college. The abrupt transition from everyday in-person classes to Zoom school was uncomfortable, but I accepted this changing reality as temporary— a short phase from which we would eventually return to in-person classes as conditions hopefully improved. But as the year went on and the US continually failed to get the pandemic under control, we had no choice but to accept the fact that the 2020-2021 year would be entirely remote.

A college experience is made up of much more than solely academics; college is a time to meet new people, explore campus, partake in clubs, grab food with friends in dining halls, etc. At Pomona, the experience also consists of trips to LA on the weekends, fountaining our friends, conversing with our sponsor groups at 1 a.m., trying out Ski-Beach day, ziplining through Marston Quad on 4/7 Day, and countless more invaluable moments. However, instead of the traditional college experience, much of my first-year consisted of Zoom classes in the middle of my bedroom while I struggled with internet issues.

It was hard at first, as one might imagine. Starting off at a new school is difficult enough, and meeting people who I would be spending the next four years with became infinitely more challenging when all my interactions were online. The transition felt especially daunting since, before last year, my online interactions had been limited. I used social media infrequently, and I was never much of a texter, as I always preferred talking to friends in person as opposed to through messages or calls. Being physically present with others in a designated space creates a unique kind of environment that does not fully translate to Zoom.

Yet even though the beginning felt overwhelming, the online year also brought its own blessings in disguise. Online interactions became less daunting as I grew more comfortable navigating virtual spaces and talking with people over Instagram or Snapchat. When my peers made introductory posts on their class pages, I encouraged myself to reach out to people with common interests. After commitment day in early May, I decided to join Zoom calls that were posted in our class WhatsApp. I remember the petrified feeling I had when I clicked the link for the first time, as I would be putting faces to names for the first time. Plus, my peers would be seeing me for the first time— what would they think of me? How strange it was to think that my first time meeting my future friends would be over a computer screen.

Lucy and 2 friends on zoom forming hearts with handsTo my own surprise, the calls were not daunting as I’d expected, but rather extremely fun and would often go on for hours into the night. We’d play Drawphone or Jackbox games at 1 a.m. in the morning— probably not the smartest decision, but worth it! I eventually found myself individually conversing with friends over calls and talking about quite literally everything, from the most casual to the most personal and heartwarming topics. And in the process, I formed many friendships with people who I truly don’t think I would have interacted with if we had been on campus. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned from this past year, I’d tell myself that it’s absolutely possible to find and create amazing communities in virtual spaces.

Lucy and 11 friends on zoomI don’t even think I can capture in words just how grateful I am for all the beautiful friends I’ve met these past twelve months. The online year brought us together and created so many memorable moments that I would’ve never anticipated before. There is no one else I would want to sit on late night calls with as I procrastinate on my textbook reading by hosting game nights or watching movies, or even freaking out over my essays during a chaotic finals week. We’ve taken to planning little birthday celebrations and mailing each other gifts, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that meeting my friends was truly the highlight of this year. Despite being from different parts of the country, two of my friends are now going to be my future roommates, and I cannot wait to meet them (in person!) in August.

Lucy & 4 friends on grass with masks
Central Park meet-up, fall 2020

College is more than just academics—it’s the place we call home for four years. And even though Pomona is located in a beautiful place, this past year has proven that college is more than just what campus has to offer. I’ve come to realize that I don’t have to be in a certain physical location in order to feel like I’m at home. After all, for me, home is where the people are. And when I’m with my friends, over a Zoom/FaceTime/Discord call with our virtual background and wacky filters, I feel like I’ve found a community where I belong and can undoubtedly be happy.