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The trials and triumphs of virtual college: A Stephanian Experience

Team Stephania (2020-21)

Tasha Ahmed, Kevin Joy Varghese, Jame Thomas Mathew, Rhea Rose Kappan

It was not about turning a handle and pushing the door. A mere 'join with audio' was hair raising enough. "Ah, you're finally here, can you hear me?" was the war cry. College interviews are never not an ordeal. Having this year's interviews online meant that the preparation ritual also involved appeasing the internet gods. First-years sharing their experience conceded that it was rather singular. Those having the misfortune of a power cut sizzled and shivered simultaneously mirroring the oscillating nature of the interviews. While there was hardly anyone without cold feet, some are of the opinion that the online format facilitated calmness. "I minimised my window so it was just me wooing my dark academia background to get me into college" declared one. The professors turned out to be quite patient and empathetic and regularly checked on the interviewee. Which of course didn't stop them from the infamous grilling sessions– "What similarities do you see in your position in the pandemic and a nineteenth-century women writer?" was a bouncer an English hopeful received. "Half my interview consisted of me arguing why sports has no prospects, while the interviewer fiercely differed, and in the end, I got in through basketball," chuckled another.


One shared that “ due to poor connectivity, I couldn't hear anything that the principal said. I just smiled and nodded along which seemed to work". Were there any significant advantages though? The attempt of one candidate to seek sneaky help from a sibling backfired since even two minds couldn't find answers to the trying questions. On the other hand, others sat on the edge with harrowing thoughts of eavesdropping parents. For everyone, it was a memorable experience. But would you like to have such an interview again? “Only if it is for Stephen’s.” winks A.


The wait for the interview results was nerve-wracking, but it was a proud moment when one finally became a ‘Stephanian’. Be it classes or assemblies, the excitement among the first years was palpable. “Online classes were fun in the beginning, I remember everyone being so enthusiastic and asking questions constantly. I even used to dress up just so that I could turn my video on,” says one.  The weirdest part of the whole online experience was talking to people one has never met. Bonding with classmates online was tough and awkward at first, but in the end almost everyone found reliable friends. “Zoom calls, online games and the endless Whatsapp groups are our daily routine. I even remember waking up to 300 messages one day,” says another. “But nonetheless, now that everything was conducted online it was a bittersweet moment.”


How would you describe your online classes in one word? “Chaotic”, says one. “I chose the word chaotic because my experience has been everything but mundane. There is so much going on at the same time which is very exciting as well as confusing.” “It is disappointing that I am not able to experience the beauty of college life in its truest essence. I would have loved to be on campus, mingle with my friends, and enjoy it fully,” says a student. When the number of questions in class was reduced and the videos were turned off, it was clear that the students' enthusiasm had waned. College classes became exhausting after a point and the excess screen time did not help. “Earlier I would be on my phone throughout, but now I make sure I keep it aside for an hour or two because I am so tired of just staring at a screen.” Another student says that it was hard for them to concentrate, “ I zoned out occasionally and when I could finally come back to my senses half of the class was already over. It's just that I had set my expectations so high that this online scenario almost feels disappointing ” Well, who would you blame for these insanely high expectations? “ To be very honest, I for one would blame “Student of the Year," she chuckles.


The weeks went by, and the college experience was limited to a 14-inch screen when one January afternoon, Residence opened up. Tired of being confined at home for almost a year and a burning curiosity to explore the hallowed corridors of St. Stephen’s brought the uninitiated first years from all over the country to college. It was a dream come true. The months spent attending classes online felt like a trailer, and now finally, it was time for the movie. “A lot of my seniors texted me when I arrived asking how college was and whether I had been to the Jarvis Pond, Parnshala, or knew who Chandni and JPji were. Their questions would not stop! The incessant badgering convinced me that college was much more than what I could see through my isolation room’s window,” says a Mukh-West resident. The next couple of weeks were spent unravelling all the mystery that was St. Stephen's College. 


As time went by, away from the safety and comfort of home, first year residents now found solace and company among their batchmates who were curious enough to grab the opportunity of living on-campus. Innumerous days were spent sprawled across the lawns, chatting away and cracking jokes while eating the infamous mince-anda-maggi from Science Dhaba. While most of the freshers agreed that college had been great so far, the seniors had a different perspective. “You have not experienced college in its totality. You have just seen the campus when in fact you have missed out on so much: the company of your classmates, the mere cacophony, running after your professors, trying to calculate how much attendance you have to bunk the next class and go to Hudson Lane, engaging in intellectual discourse with strangers you meet in the hallway. Trust me, there is so much more,” says a third-year. As more batches of junior members arrived, the mess hall started filling up, yet the menu remained a love triangle between dal and aloo with us being the third wheel. Life in college was slowly becoming what it would have been like a year ago. For a while, it all seemed perfect.


As COVID strikes again, the fear of spending yet another year at home was creeping in. Stephen's still remains a mystery to a majority of the first years, but the hope of walking through the red-bricked corridors one day is what keeps them going.    

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