COMunity has been working hard to connect off-campus students together through the years, and that goal has only evolved and expanded with McGill’s recent shift to remote learning. The program is part of McGill’s Off-Campus and Commuter Student Support office, and on Oct. 14, they held a speed-friending event to help off-campus students safely meet new people.
This speed-friending event is not the first of its kind for COMunity. In past years, they have hosted a similar event for Valentine’s Day as a way to foster connections during the colder winter months. Kirsten Vanderlinde, U4 Arts and COMunity program manager, explained the unlikely partnership with some Australian connections that allowed for the transition of this popular event to an online platform.
“I coordinated with some individuals at the University of Queensland because I went online and saw they had hosted an online speed-friending event,” Vanderlinde said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “They were happy to share the logistics […] with me.”
Since August 2020, COMunity has facilitated three speed-friending events. The first two were run during orientation week by the Campus Life and Engagement department and the Off-Campus Connects events. Vanderlinde said she felt fortunate to be part of such an accessible and adaptable program that was so easily transferred online.
“We quite like hosting events online because it is allowing us to connect with off-campus students who live really far away from campus, like in Chambly or West Island, who we usually have a harder time reaching with our events and programming,” Vanderlinde said.
There were people from all across the island of Montreal in attendance during the Oct. 14 event, which is one of the main benefits of COMunity’s transition to an online format. Around 20 people, ranging from first year to graduate students, joined the Zoom call. As opposed to the one-on-one chats one might be accustomed to in speed events, breakout groups were formed based on attendees’ boroughs. In successive breakout rooms, people first met peers living in their own neighbourhoods, and then with residents from different neighbourhoods, each time sharing stories and participating in icebreakers. Laurie Chan, U1 Arts, believes that such events are crucial for fostering connections between first year students like herself.
“I wanted to go because it’s been so difficult to meet people and build any kind of meaningful connection [right now],” Chan said. “It’s so important to be connected and inspired by those around us, and that has been […] lacking. I think [remote learning] makes us all get stuck in our own heads and hinders us from doing our best. So many people feel this way and so there are so many people who are down to meet others and do things. The hardest part is actually finding them.”
For students like Chan who have just moved to Montreal, COMunity provides a way to meet people who are similarly isolated and seeking connection. For students who have previously called Montreal home, COMunity’s initiative is still a great way to engage with peers in a new context. In past years, there has been an in-person lounge area for off-campus students to attend events where they can meet fellow commuters. Now that COMunity’s events are online, those students are able to have more regular programming than they would have had in person. After many successful online events so far this year, COMunity is looking forward to continuing their mission and bringing students together as the semester unfolds.
Every Tuesday from 10-11 a.m., COMunity hosts a drop-in Zoom meeting, COMon Ground, available to all students who want to connect with their peers.