Socialization amidst a Pandemic: Closing the Distance with Technology

Reflections by Namrata (ESR 7)


While closing the Network Training Event 1 (NTE 1), we were hoping that at least for the next NTE we would travel to Erlangen and meet the other ESRs face-to-face. However, as the world continues to fight COVID-19 crisis, we again got ready to take part in the virtual event and meet each other online for the NTE 2 (8th to 11th December). Personally, I feel in this NTE 2 we got a bit less formal, even though most of us have never met each other in person. I am here to share with you how that was made possible, how we interacted and grew an inch closer in the virtual environment and how some amazing software played a role in it.

So, NTE 2 was again organized with help of ZOOM, one of the many video conferencing software, that are enabling virtual interactions amidst the current “work-from-home” situation. On the first day, we all met in an Ice Breaker Coffee session and updated each other about our lives. A key highlight was addition of Manon (ESR 3); thus, completing our team of 15 ESRs.


As the first day of NTE 2 came to an end, we got ready to participate in the online gaming event organized by Puzzlebreak, where the ESRs, Laurens and supervisors were distributed in four groups. I am in love with these escape room gaming events – solving mindboggling puzzles together and the thrill you get when you stumble upon the answer! So many “Eureka” moments 😊. Starting from the previous NTE, this has indeed become a ritual. I am already looking forward to the next gaming event. And when I thought the fun was over, I was about to be happily surprised (more on that in a bit).


Group 3 rejoicing on finishing the game.


After the information-packed second day of NTE arrived the third day, where we were about to try a new virtual reality software – Virtway. There we created our own Avatars, experimenting with the virtual wardrobe 😉. What was funny is that three of us had exactly same avatars, right down to the hairstyle. This virtual reality platform was to be used for two parts – first: the COOL session, where we tried to find multi-disciplinary topics to collaborate upon and second: a surprise! The previously formed three COOL-groups presented their topics based on the results from previous NTE 1 on Miro Board (another awesome software saving the day amidst the pandemic!). However, we realized a lot more work and time is needed to find an agreeable result.


And once the COOL session ended, the surprise was waiting for us. We were about to play another game as a team building exercise in the virtual environment. We all were to do a role-play and try to find the killer amongst us. An email was sent to us with our role details, information about the victim and details about others who were related to us. We talked with each other, teamed up to find the killer and defended who we thought was falsely accused. It was indeed a thrilling experience. It was similar to we all meeting together and interacting, thanks to our Avatars. Amazing!


A group picture in a virtual environment.


In the evening we met for Christmas Exchange session via ZOOM, where each of us shared how they celebrate Christmas back home. The discussions were so much more personal, where everyone shared a personal bit of their lives. Priyanka (ESR 1) was ready with a full-fledged presentation where she gave us a peek into her Christmas celebration and family. We found out about the many similarities as well as the different ways of celebrations. There were also special appearances – Heather’s (ESR 14) pets, a cute dog and a super-cute cat. One of the interesting outcomes was the idea to meet more regularly, at least once a month, to keep in touch. It was indeed a perfect soothing end to a happening third day of the event.

Presentation on Christmas Celebrations by Priyanka (ESR 1).


Smiling faces, Christmas Exchange session 😊.


The last and final day introduced us to yet another method of enhancing our interactions virtually. In the Adidas workshop, we had a World Café session, held virtually on Miro Board and ZOOM. We discussed what changes could be made by Adidas to create a more sustainable business model, by moving in groups around four tables, sharing and discussing our ideas. Such an interesting way to brainstorm and discuss! And the experience of actually moving around the table was brought about with the help of the ZOOM break-out rooms.


Maria (ESR 15) Explaining to us the rules of World Café


The event ended with closing remarks from few ESRs and supervisors. We were especially thankful for the splendid organization by University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, including Tiago (ESR 8) and Maria (ESR 15).

As I said before, this event brought all the ESRs a bit closer, given the fact that we all have met only online as of now (most of us). Lastly, again I am very happy that we are complete – a team of 15. I hope that for the next NTE 3 we’ll be able to meet personally at the Ghent University. But I am positive that when we do meet, we will not meet as strangers.

Till the next NTE! Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year 😊.

© 2019 Ghent University

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 859885.