A silver lining: How COVID-19 introduced me to my closest friends

The pandemic allowed me to form meaningful relationships with my peers in residence

Brant House residence building.

The most incredible aspect of living in residence is the opportunity to influence, and be influenced by, people you likely never would’ve met otherwise.

As I’ve often been told by my parents, advisors, and almost every news source, this last year was and continues to be unprecedented. With all the changes and restrictions, my expectations for the opening chapter of my undergraduate degree were lowered. 

However, with no distractions, my peers and I had no choice but to meaningfully connect with our ‘household bubbles’ as first-year students in residence. With this came a multitude of lessons I never expected to learn.

During the winter months of my senior year of high school, I remember carefully deciding which university to attend in the fall. My friends and I weighed factors from prestige to proximity to home, sharing feelings of anxiety, excitement, and uncertainty.

Throughout this process of selection and elimination, the most asked question we faced from our families, friends, and teachers was: “So, where are you thinking for next year?”

With no answers, the question would nag at us as we fell asleep.

I consider myself fortunate to not have experienced the stressful university selection process for very long.

My dad took me to tour Canadian universities during the summer before my senior year. We visited the University of Toronto, Queen’s, then McGill. The order is important here because, while the prospect of a bustling new city excited me, it was the filling of this university-tour-sandwich that left me feeling truly at home.

At Queen’s, even during the summer, I could feel excitement and possibility around me. I experienced an immense amount of school pride coupled with a strong sense of community—it just felt right. Friends and family told me stories of GPA bar achievements, Homecoming, St. Patrick’s Day, and the birth of long-enduring friendships.

When the time came, I enthusiastically accepted my offer to Queen’s and began to count down the months until school started, awaiting my turn to be a part of all of those memorable first-year experiences.

This year was completely different than I had ever imagined. When it was decided that classes would be delivered virtually, I understood, but was disheartened. The saving grace was the announcement that Queen’s would open residence halls to incoming students at reduced capacities.

Optimistically, I filled out my application to be placed in residence, but reading over all of the COVID-19-related terms and conditions made my excitement plummet.

I figured it would be nearly impossible to socialize and make meaningful connections with floormates, and that my experience in residence, if anything at all, would be a quiet place to study and gain independence.

Eventually, I was offered a room in Victoria Hall’s A Wing. All my Queen’s connections assured me that Vic Hall was famously fun, and so I decided to pack up and head off at the end of August to begin my undergraduate experience, unsure of what to expect.

Only a few hours after move-in, all my skepticism and hesitancy melted away. Yes, there were rules and restrictions; however, it seemed like everyone in Victoria Hall had tacitly agreed to make the best of them.

Even with masks on, faces quickly became familiar because everyone was so eager to introduce themselves.

Within my first week, I could match a name and hometown to everyone on my floor, which had already defied my expectations coming into the year. The Residence Life team implemented a recommendation that we stick to socializing within our ‘households’—floor wings, in the case of my residence.

At first, I worried this would be extremely limiting. Instead, the restrictions led my floor group to become very close. We spent each evening in our common room recapping classes and simply enjoying one another’s company.

I learned all sorts of things about my floormates’, from their most significant life experiences to things as trivial as their taste in music, television, and sports. Under the unique conditions of this year, I not only became acquainted with my peers, but was forced to get to know each one of them on a deeper level.

A seemingly random group of first-years became a cohesive family unit, each equipped with distinct personalities and experiences to share.

There was a don from Mexico who played both hero and villain on the floor; a hilarious hockey savant from Kanata with a knack for politics; a next-door neighbour from a ridiculously small town who showed me genuine kindness and a love for the Arkells, to name just a few.

This year was a mixed bag. It came with pandemic-related difficulties in the form of lockdowns, dining hall and gym closures, and the absence of important Queen’s experiences like Homecoming.

Despite my uncertainty, these limitations actually created opportunities to find enjoyment and appreciation in the simplest of things shared within my floor bubble.

The most important takeaways from a first year experience in residence are the meaningful connections and friendships I made. Though the fancy events and accessories would’ve been nice, it was the fundamental relationships and the effort that went into making these bonds that made this year special in its own regard.

Maya Angelou famously stated: “If you can’t change your situation, change your perspective.”

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by individuals with this same philosophy, and for that reason, I believe the class of ’24, at Queen’s and beyond, will always be bonded by this highly atypical first year experience.


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