Friend groups during corona
Never together with the whole gang
Albertus year club Limiet has eighteen female first-year members. The club was founded in October of last year. Unfortunately, the students haven’t been allowed to all get together for months now.
‘I’ve seen some club members only once or twice, which is just weird’, says Carlijn (19). ‘And it’s a shame that we’ve never all been in one room.’
I’ve seen some club members only once or twice
They have a club night every Wednesday, but it’s not been easy to organise those. ‘We make a lot of lists’, explains pharmacy student Carlijn. ‘First, we make an overview of everyone who’s coming, so we know how many houses we need. Next, everyone writes down which house they’d like to go to.’
‘I always make sure I meet up with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while’, says club member Merith (19).
But there are other deciding factors, as well: ‘If one group has plans to drink and get wild and you just want to have a quiet dinner, it’s probably a good idea to find a different group’, says Carlijn. ‘We take that into account.’
No large groups
The student population in Groningen is divided into a myriad of different groups: year clubs, debating societies, committees, houses, or friend groups who found each other in some other way. But these groups often consist of more than three people, the current maximum that are allowed to gather in a single home.
Daantje (22) is feeling the impact of the restrictions, too. The Dutch language student is in charge of organising a study trip together with the rest of her committee, but right now, she’s not sure it can even take place. The committee, part of study association ZaZa, has only met in person once over the past few months, when its six members got together to announce where the trip would take place. ‘It was a fun evening, but not everyone enjoyed meeting in such a large group, so we haven’t done that again.’
It’s difficult to figure out how to deal with the situation. They got together in two groups of three, talked over Zoom, and even used a random generator. ‘It’s really funny’, says Daantje. ‘You enter the names of everyone in your group on this website, and it automatically divides you into two groups.’ Every week, they determine who will visit with whom. ‘It’s not easy, since some people don’t follow the rules as strictly as others. You have to take that into account.’
21-year-old Marleen, president of the five-person board at linguistics study association TW!ST, is familiar with the issues. The board was announced back in May. ‘Under normal circumstances, we work together all the time over the course of the next year’, says Marleen.
You can’t have eighteen girls in a Zoom meeting
But not this year. ‘Fortunately, we were able to get together a lot over the summer, since the restrictions were a bit more relaxed back then.’ They spent a lot of time in outdoor cafés, went on a weekend trip, and had dinner together. But this all ended when the restrictions were tightened again. ‘It was a shame, but there was nothing we could do.’
Marleen and her board spend a lot of time puzzling to figure out their schedule. ‘Sometimes three of us meet in person while the rest joins us over Zoom. Other times we all stay at home and meet over Zoom. But it’s not great, because we often end up talking over each other.’
That’s also why year club Limiet doesn’t have any Zoom meetings. ‘The eighteen of us in a room together is already noisy as heck. Imagine what would happen with eighteen girls in a Zoom meeting’, says Carlijn, laughing. ‘Besides, we’d all be drinking alone in our rooms. That’s just sad.’
The worst part is the way the corona restrictions affect the group dynamics. ‘It doesn’t really feel like I’m part of a club’, says sociology student Merith. ‘Because we can only get together in small groups, we don’t know what it’s like if we were to all get together. You can’t present your group to the rest of the association, which is a real shame.’
She also misses going out to the pub. ‘There’s just less to do. Normally, your first year at Albertus is one of the best years. I guess the second year will just have to be really good’, says Carlijn.
They’re not worried that anyone will be left out. ‘It sounds weird, but we can easily pick up on whether someone fits in with the rest. You can tell when you first start forming the club. If the majority of people like you, you’re a good fit. We try to meet with everyone equally.’ Obviously, they see some club members more often than others. ‘But that’s nothing out of the ordinary. I think that would happen anyway’, says Merith.
Daantje en Marleen also noticed the changes. ‘It certainly has an effect on the bonding and the group dynamics’, says Daantje. Two other committee members were already good friends of hers, but she didn’t really know the other three. ‘I noticed I tended to gravitate towards my friends more, also because we were in the same bubble. I don’t really know the other three members as well, which is a shame.’
Meeting in small groups makes everything more personal
‘Organising a trip together is fun, but all the things around it, like having dinner together, going out drinking, are even more fun. You have to find a way to not make it feel like an obligation.’
Their committee has therefore decided to do something fun after each (online) meeting. ‘I’m organising a bingo session, and another member is putting together a pub quiz for after the next meeting.’ The annual committee weekend trip has already been postponed three times. ‘It sucks, because those are the best weekends all year.’
‘Everything just takes longer’, says Marleen. That’s probably because meetings and interactions are less intense. ‘But I do think that we’ll be just as close as “regular” boards are this summer.’
There are some bright spots in the whole situation. ‘Meeting in smaller groups makes everything feel closer and more personal’, says Merith. ‘We have a lot of serious talks, and we’ve got to know each other much better.’ ‘The situation requires a lot of creativity from everyone’, says Carlijn. ‘A lot of the girls spend time together exercising, taking walks, or watching a movie. I think we actually meet up more often outside club nights than we used to. There’s not much else to do. Normally, we’d all have drinks together and then go to the pub.’
Nevertheless, everyone hopes that the corona crisis will be over soon. ‘It’ll take some getting used to’, says Merith. Carlijn: ‘All eighteen of us in a room might even feel a little illegal.’