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International Classroom: Starting Psychology in a Pandemic

By August 31, 2020 September 2nd, 2020 No Comments

In comparison to previous years, many things have changed for this year’s batch of psychology students. Besides the obvious shift to online learning, alternative online activities have been created to welcome the first years. Starting with Intreeweek, they conducted a completely online introduction week that started with a live stream of the grand opening. Although some technical difficulties were faced with the volume of people trying to connect to the stream, a recording of the stream was later uploaded for those who missed it. The four-day program was interspersed with morning workouts, games over video calls, workshops, and music. As someone who participated in the regular Intreeweek in my first year and was a mentor last year, being a mentor this year was an interesting experience that allowed me to see the differences across the three years. Some key differences were the challenges that come with online communication and the group bond.

The nature of video calls made it tough to communicate, at times. Firstly, for those who are already shy about meeting new people, the awkwardness of video calls certainly posed a barrier to engaging with others. Another way video call falls short of in-person interaction is the unnatural flow of the conversation. There were times when two people would start speaking at once or someone might accidentally interrupt another person. I believe these may have been due to a video lag or the inability to gauge the conversational intentions of others due to reduced perceived behavioral cues. There were also no opportunities for private conversations and if two people wanted to discuss something specific, the whole group would have to wait for their conversation to be over. 

It was interesting to connect with people from (literally) different parts of the world. Since everything would be online for the first semester, some students opted to delay their move to Amsterdam. The time difference did pose an issue for some as our evening activities became early morning activities for those in Asia, for instance. Despite the physical distance, a strong group bond could still be forged if everyone participated in the activities and tried to make meaningful connections. With less sensory-stimulating activities this year (given that they are all conducted online), more focus could be placed on getting to know one another. Furthermore, the lack of physical social contact could have encouraged people to put in more effort into becoming better acquainted with others. Personally, I think the bonds I have formed with some of my Intreeweek group members are stronger than those I have formed previously, given the few days of interaction. 

Besides Intreeweek, the psychology department came up with a creative and fun introduction activity for the first-year bachelor and master students. An escape room surrounding Sigmund Freud was created by Bart van Loenen (ICTO), Marthe Heitbrink (Admissions Officer), and Roos Knijnenburg (Communications). The students worked in groups of five, following clues and solving puzzles, to ‘return Sigmund Freud to 1880.’ Some of these puzzles also incorporated the online applications used for their studies, such as Canvas and UvA’s timetable, rooster. This may have helped to introduce students to their study lifelines and familiarized them with its use. The puzzles were mostly focused on practical knowledge on how to get around offline and online. Some of the members from my Intreeweek group were disappointed by the lack of Psychology-related puzzles but overall, they found the escape room really challenging but fun.

In comparison to previous years, many things have changed for this year’s batch of psychology students. Besides the obvious shift to online learning, alternative online activities have been created to welcome the first years. Starting with Intreeweek, they conducted a completely online introduction week that started with a live stream of the grand opening. Although some technical difficulties were faced with the volume of people trying to connect to the stream, a recording of the stream was later uploaded for those who missed it. The four-day program was interspersed with morning workouts, games over video calls, workshops, and music. As someone who participated in the regular Intreeweek in my first year and was a mentor last year, being a mentor this year was an interesting experience that allowed me to see the differences across the three years. Some key differences were the challenges that come with online communication and the group bond.

The nature of video calls made it tough to communicate, at times. Firstly, for those who are already shy about meeting new people, the awkwardness of video calls certainly posed a barrier to engaging with others. Another way video call falls short of in-person interaction is the unnatural flow of the conversation. There were times when two people would start speaking at once or someone might accidentally interrupt another person. I believe these may have been due to a video lag or the inability to gauge the conversational intentions of others due to reduced perceived behavioral cues. There were also no opportunities for private conversations and if two people wanted to discuss something specific, the whole group would have to wait for their conversation to be over. 

It was interesting to connect with people from (literally) different parts of the world. Since everything would be online for the first semester, some students opted to delay their move to Amsterdam. The time difference did pose an issue for some as our evening activities became early morning activities for those in Asia, for instance. Despite the physical distance, a strong group bond could still be forged if everyone participated in the activities and tried to make meaningful connections. With less sensory-stimulating activities this year (given that they are all conducted online), more focus could be placed on getting to know one another. Furthermore, the lack of physical social contact could have encouraged people to put in more effort into becoming better acquainted with others. Personally, I think the bonds I have formed with some of my Intreeweek group members are stronger than those I have formed previously, given the few days of interaction. 

Besides Intreeweek, the psychology department came up with a creative and fun introduction activity for the first-year bachelor and master students. An escape room surrounding Sigmund Freud was created by Bart van Loenen (ICTO), Marthe Heitbrink (Admissions Officer), and Roos Knijnenburg (Communications). The students worked in groups of five, following clues and solving puzzles, to ‘return Sigmund Freud to 1880.’ Some of these puzzles also incorporated the online applications used for their studies, such as Canvas and UvA’s timetable, rooster. This may have helped to introduce students to their study lifelines and familiarized them with its use. The puzzles were mostly focused on practical knowledge on how to get around offline and online. Some of the members from my Intreeweek group were disappointed by the lack of Psychology-related puzzles but overall, they found the escape room really challenging but fun.

Lydia Tian

Author Lydia Tian

Lydia Tian (1998) is a second-year psychology student, aspiring to become a clinical developmental psychologist. She enjoys a variety of activities such as writing, music-making and gaming.

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