Fostering my community

Manya Malhotra

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Isabella Falsetti

I had always thought of myself as the kind of person who would sit in front of the television, gorging myself on a sugary treat, rather than embracing the big bad world outside. But the pandemic proved me wrong. It made me realize how much human interaction invigorated me; it added a sprinkle of positivity to my day.

 

At the start of the pandemic, I found solace in attending classes in my pajamas and trying my hand at baking. The sudden stillness that had enveloped me was comforting and — dare I say — blissful.

 

But this lifestyle started to get to me. I was tired of my mundane routine. My dining table, however homey and decorated, couldn’t replace a lavish restaurant table serving ambience and delectable food. My laptop screen had nothing on the large projector I once worshipped almost every weekend as I caught the latest film releases, surrounded by a bustling crowd of fans. Most importantly, greeting little pop-up Zoom boxes was nowhere close to the experience of in-person interactions.

 

During my mini social exile, an unfamiliar emptiness completely engulfed me. It was not just a lack of social interaction that I was missing, but a sense of purpose. I had always been academically-inclined at school and while I took part in the occasional athletic event, I never felt truly at home there. I always yearned to be more involved, to form a sense of community under the big umbrella of high school life. I always buried that sense of loss that I felt, and it took a pandemic for that feeling to finally catch up with me.

 

As the pandemic progressed, the lack of social interaction and sense of belonging to a community made me restless, increasingly pessimistic and prone to rather elaborate temper tantrums. At this time of rampant emotionality and helplessness, I needed in-person interaction the most. Alas, I was starved of the one thing with the power to pull me out of my stupor and infuse me with the optimism I was desperately searching for.

 

Finally, the day had arrived — one everyone else in my life had been eagerly waiting for — I jetted off to Vancouver to attend university. The city, with its vast sea and endless mountains, seemed out of my reach. The first couple days were a blur of nerves and disorientation. I felt like an outsider, a total stranger in a place where everyone around me was having the time of their lives.

 

I had forgotten how to conduct myself during social interactions. No matter how much that meek voice inside my head prodded me on, I was too afraid to launch myself into a social situation. After a few days of resisting all forms of in-person interaction, that now-familiar feeling of loneliness started to creep back into my chest. I realized that I couldn’t allow myself to go down that rabbit hole that the last few months of being cooped up at home had mentally transported me to.

 

I needed to relearn how to take initiative and the perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of a college party. The connections I made there helped me branch out and provided me with the impetus needed to navigate the campus social scene. Soon my weekdays consisted of productive studying and weekends were a colourful blur of food, laughter and excitement.

 

Despite this stimulating blend of interactions, there was still that sense of not being involved enough with my university. I wished to be a part of something bigger than myself. Like most incoming university students desperate to find their place at UBC, I was pointed toward clubs.

 

I decided to cultivate my love for writing by joining The Ubyssey. Initially, the fear of not being a strong or experienced-enough writer prevented me from volunteering, but a chance to review a Christmas movie — putting my love for film critique to use — proved to be my ideal starting point in the world of journalism.

 

Through working with The Ubyssey, I was afforded the opportunity to dabble with different styles of writing, covering and reviewing events while occasionally diving into more creative, personal pieces. It both surprised and amazed me that professors and experts in the fields of arts and culture took the time to give insightful answers to questions I had prepared. As someone who had always lacked confidence, the experience was immensely validating. Being exposed to different backgrounds and opinions, broadened my horizons. Professional interactions do not always have to be nerve-wracking — they can also be enjoyable and unexpectedly comforting.

 

Attending events organized by The Ubyssey, volunteering to be a representative on Imagine Day and being teased by my friends for always talking about the newspaper, all contributed to me being able to find a community there. Sure, I complain about being saddled with work for the newspaper and how it stresses me out, but working creatively with people with differing perspectives is one of the most satisfying feelings I have experienced in a long time.

 

As a film buff, my next stop was the Film Society. During weekly workshops, we worked on scripts, built characters and prepared to create our very own film. The experience was a refreshing change from sitting behind my desk, consumed in the process of writing articles and scrolling through endless readings. I got hands-on experience in all things film as I bonded with the other members over mutual hatred for our roommates and deciding which drink from Starbucks’s holiday collection was the best.

 

Eventually, though, schedules came into conflict and the film never got made. Had I not been a part of a community elsewhere, perhaps I would have been more disappointed with how things panned out with the Film Society. Still, there was something beautiful about the feeling I got while collaborating with people I didn’t really know, but who shared my interests and goals. That realization made me want to get more involved in the coming term and rediscover the sense of community I found there.

 

Community to me is a sense of belonging, a place where I collaborate with others to contribute to something bigger than myself, something that binds me to UBC. Being reminded of what you have achieved and what more you want to achieve by working with these people can act as the guiding light that reignites your sense of purpose. It certainly did for me.

 

As an international student struggling for acceptance and a sense of comfort, I found my safe haven in the Film Society and The Ubyssey. The seemingly-insurmountable stresses and anxieties that my days bring with them magically vanish in the presence of those lovely people whose company I have come to look forward to.

 

I went into university expecting long-lasting friendships and personal connections to be the most important part of the campus experience. While I haven’t fostered many of those connections within the clubs I have been involved with, the unexpected sense of belonging I have experienced here is what I will cherish the most from my time at UBC.