Cementing Friendships During COVID Self-isolation

Cecily Liu

Self-isolation paints a scary picture during COVID times. For many, the thought of attending MBA classes via Zoom while being confined to a tiny room is a significant compromise to the campus experience, and potentially a nightmare.

But having being thrown unexpectedly into this situation for two weeks, my perspective transformed.

The care, support and friendships I experienced during this period taught me that we as human beings are very resourceful in developing meaningful connections, especially at INSEAD.

Right before the new school term started, a housemate was tested positive, and consequently everyone else in the house had to self-isolate for two weeks.

The news was definitely unexpected, and living in a house as the only student from the '21J class (all other 15 housemates were from the '21D class), I quickly realised that my housemates would have been even more surprised. 

As a '21J student, I had already experienced two academic periods, some of which were taught online. But for my '21D housemates, to be asked to self-isolate before even stepping foot on campus must have been a big disappointment and frustration.

Consequently, I found myself engaging with my housemates to set a tone of solidarity and mutual support, which I felt was the best way to also emotionally support the housemate who was tested positive.

I shared with my housemates my experiences on remote learning, and encouraged them to participate actively in class. I reassured them with inspiring examples of classmates who actively engaged in class discussions while recovering from COVID, and I felt grateful that my younger housemates felt much calmer and optimistic after our conversation.

Dinner with housemates and friends at our shared house in Fonty

Very quickly, we established new house protocols about keeping the common areas well sanitised and well aired, so that we could continue to interact whilst minimising the risk. We made good use of our little rooftop space for socialising in the open air, and upon realising it was very cold in the winter we quickly made plans to get an outdoor heater.

We made good use of our little rooftop space for socialising in open air

I was moved by how well we supported each other and the housemate who was tested positive. We collaboratively made sure that he was feeling well and had an ample supply of food, kept up-to-date with our group’s latest happenings, and felt supported. The social bonding experience amongst us was in no way compromised, and we already feel we have a stronger bond.

As for me, I have used the extra time of being confined to the house to read, write, exercise and catch up with good friends and family members. The schedule normally gets hectic during an MBA, because there is always a lot of exciting events happening on campus. But in my own room I’ve been surprisingly productive. I finished reading two books marked as ‘optional reading’ for my class and learnt so much from them. I did three job interviews, and felt I had ample time to prepare for all of them. I collaborated with teammates at the Women in Business club to organise new exciting events for the new academic year.

One reason I had the energy to be so productive is the support I had from classmates.

As soon as they noticed I was away from class, many good friends sent me messages asking how I was doing. Some scheduled Zoom calls with me, and I really enjoyed these conversations. One classmate made my favourite ‘miss-home’ food of minced pork and salted egg congee, and delivered it to my door! A bite of this warm delicious dish brought so much joy and warmth to my heart on a cold January day!

A classmate made my favourite ‘miss-home’ food of minced pork and salted egg congee, and delivered it to my door!

And my experiences Zooming into classes was not at all compromised. Our professors have taken a lot of care to ensure that students on Zoom are fully engaged in class discussions – we were given opportunities to chime in as we wished, as well as contribute in the chat box.

I feel our professors are grasping the skill of engaging a hybrid system of Zoom and in-class participants really well, and my own experience really gave me a glimpse into the future hybrid model of the workplace that many organisational behaviour experts have been talking about over the past year.

I feel that we were all so scared about remote learning (I certainly was back in 2020, before I arrived at INSEAD), because we are scared that it takes away meaningful human connections. But my experience has taught me that human connections will always stay when we actively make an effort to take care of each other.