When Maria, our Administrator, circulated an email asking us to sign up for a takeaway/delivery meal online, I was ambivalent about participating. How was this going to work? What would be the fun of eating in my college room while looking at my screen yet again? I had been doing all of that during these last two months. On the other hand, why not? I had always wanted to try that new Ramen place which had opened near Ertegun House but lockdown put paid to those plans. So I signed up, sent in my order, and awaited instructions. These came in the form of an invitation asking me to sign up to Discord, another online platform that appeared to have become popular during our strange pandemic times, and which I knew some of those attending online screenings together had been using to chat. At least it wasn’t MS Teams or Zoom again!
On the evening itself, I was pleasantly surprised by a prompt delivery and had already sat down to enjoy a delicious bowl of ramen when I logged on to Discord, slightly later than the 7.30 PM advertised time, to be greeted by a welcome message on a striking black background and an array of virtual channels. There was a virtual Ertegun House ‘kitchen/lounge’ complete with an image of the House, and all six study rooms. I soon got the hang of switching between the channels or ‘rooms’ and realised that Maria had set a maximum occupancy to the ‘study rooms’, just like in real life. This was really handy for having quieter conversations with a few people rather than the general hubbub in the ‘kitchen/lounge’.
I was happy to see some long-lost Ertegun buddies who had moved back home just before the lockdown started: there was bleary-eyed Emma in contrast to a chirpy Frazer in different towns of New Zealand, eating breakfast, Adina having lunch in New York, and Maikki smiling at us from Helsinki. And then there were all of us in the UK, scattered around Oxford and London, so close, yet still so far away. Maria was there too, effortlessly moving through channels, sharing jokes, checking that we had all received or picked up our food, and reminding us to send in our receipts and expense claim forms for those further afield than Oxford. There isn’t really much else to write except to say that, when I next looked at the clock, three hours had just flown by, and it was close to midnight here (but not even Friday afternoon in New Zealand!). I had never laughed so much online or realised how much I had missed the camaraderie in the House kitchen, when sitting down to lunch could turn into hours of drinking tea and discussing everything under the sun. I thought it was going to be another semi-boring event online with stilted conversation and awkward pauses. This was the closest to the atmosphere of a live Ertegun event I had experienced in weeks! It also made me realise that I needed to connect with others more than I was allowing myself the time to do, stressed as I was with studying for this term’s online exams and writing my thesis. While I would never opt for virtual over real connection, this evening was a reminder that communication with friends, in whatever form or shape, is essential. I have since made (and kept!) many virtual appointments. A big thank you to Maria, Ed, and the programme for overcoming the challenge and providing us with this unique event.