Credit Jessica Northridge

Billy no mates without classmates?

By Ross Millan

Writer Ross Millan reflects on the impact of Covid-19 related restrictions on his friendships at univerisity.

I arrived in Glasgow in September 2020, starting university several months after the country was plunged into lockdown. This time period felt like the tail-end of the Covid-19 pandemic; we would be back to normal before we knew it, surely? Online lectures and tutorials were to be limited to the first semester of my first year, the university assured us. Yet, four years on, in my final semester of my final year, I found myself logging into an online lecture at 10am, lying in bed.

To be sure, online lectures are now the exception rather than the norm. But the impact of an entirely digital university experience persists, especially in the realm of socialising. Soon into my first year, I realised the way I forged most of my friends from school – having sat next to them in class – had become inapplicable to my university experience, unless I was prepared to take active steps to meet up with people after a Zoom tutorial. I remain impressed by anyone who ever ended up doing that – it just feels too awkward, more so for an awkward person like myself. The consequence? A university experience heavily centred around the people you happened to live with in your flat or halls.

Are flatships as valuable as friendships forged from classes or social experiences? Firstly, there will always be differences between a sober friendship and a drunk one. I’m sure you’ve experienced great craic with someone on a night out, but outside the library at 11am on a Tuesday, the lack of seven or eight pints bridging the conversational gap between you couldn’t be more obvious. In that way, flatmates and classmates are surely more conducive to closer, longer-lasting connections. You get to grips with someone’s authentic self, and they learn more about you. Importantly, the dynamic is not reliant on intoxication to be fun and meaningful. Of course, there are friends to be found at the pub, club, and party. But, really, getting along with someone often entails being in their room the morning afterwards, hungover, debriefing, waiting for the McDonald’s delivery to arrive.

Those in the class of 2024, and perhaps the one following, have by circumstance had to place a larger than normal emphasis on their first year flatmates. While it would be untrue to claim accommodation-based friendships did not exist pre-Covid, anecdotally, more recent arrivals at university seem to have made friends from a broader range of sources, including classes and societies. I am happy to see these things returning to normal. After all, being able to meet people from different backgrounds and with different personalities – instead of everyone else in your social circle having brazenly requested a 12-person-flat in Murano – makes for a more diverse and interesting university experience.


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