For culinary student Peter Gonzalez, smiling new faces filling the bleachers and splatters of colourful paint flying in the air are what he remembers most about Humber’s pre-pandemic Frosh Week.
Now, memories of North campus before lockdowns are hard for Gonzales to conjure, as he returns to college to pursue culinary management.
“I was nervous about my first day at college,” Gonzalez said. “My high-school friend that I [arrived with] was in a different program, so I didn’t know anyone in mine at first.”
Gonzalez met a new friend in 2016 during his orientation and food truck launching event.
“We hang out almost every day ever since and he is one of my closest friends,” Gonzalez said.
But going back to school and making new friends looks different in 2021.
Recent Frosh Week and orientation were virtually available to students on Zoom and Microsoft Teams, making it difficult for students to introduce themselves to new people.
Isha Decoito, a STEM educator and coordinator, found changes in student engagement as students were isolated for more than a year.
“We all have our bad days at times but I noticed a general loss of motivation,” Decotio said. “The mental and emotional process of traveling to campus, arriving in class, and interacting with peers helps to train and support our brains for the future.”
It is also hard to meet people. COVID-19 restrictions remain in place — and will for the foreseeable future — and students need to wear masks and keep their distance indoors.
Neda Tavakolida finished her first year of Culinary Management online, and so far, it has been a rocky start to her second year. Tavakolida is a mom, so it is even more challenging for her to visit in-person classes.
“Thankfully we have some days in the kitchen and in the Humber Room Restaurant,” said Tavakolida. “I am a hugger, so it was challenging for me finally meeting peers in person, especially that I have a son at home I have to think about.”
Developmental psychologist Susan Pinker studied in-person contacts and found happiness hormones — oxytocin and dopamine — are released when people shake hands or embrace hugs.
People become more resilient to stress and anxiety in the future, become more trusting to others, like how a vaccine makes one more resilient to viruses.
Humber offers events for supporting mental health and stress during the school year. A Healthy Minds for Stressful Times series of events starts in October 2021, offering an opportunity to connect with peers, get motivated and be supported. Other in-person events have yet to be announced.