Annenberg Radio

New and returning USC students compare socializing online to real life

As students take classes and interact with others on Zoom, they’ve adjusted to socializing in a new environment.

Following USC’s transition to online learning in March 2020, students have been unable to participate in in-person classes and activities. This led both new and returning students to reevaluate how they make and maintain their friendships.

USC officially transitioned to online learning due to the coronavirus pandemic a little more than a year ago. Many students went back to their childhood homes and lived away from their friends. Over a year later, students have still been unable to return to USC’s campus for in-person classes or social gatherings. Kacie Yamamoto has more on the story.


Alexis Dugel is new to the USC community. She’s a freshman majoring in communication. Dugel says making friends in an entirely online setting while at home is not easy!

“There’s different clubs you can join, and organizations and things, but since they’re all virtual too, it is still hard to meet people. I don’t think the people I’m talking to online are gonna be, like, the friends I make in real life, you know, because I feel like the people I hang out with in real life will, like, we will have met physically, like together...”

Despite the increased difficulty of creating and maintaining relationships over Zoom, Dugel still tried her best to meet people.

“I definitely wanted to start making friends as soon as I started my fall semester, so I would go to all the social events and go to the different events that clubs had to offer and stuff just to get myself out there and meet as many people as I could, so that was definitely a good strategy. It’s just really hard to make that authentic connection over Zoom.”

And it’s not only freshmen who have had trouble socializing with fellow students this past year. Shengluo Zhang is a second-year graduate student. She studies animation! That’s a small department. Most of the animation students got to know each other before the pandemic. But when the pandemic started, Zhang went back to China, and that made it hard to keep up her friendships.

“I don’t talk very much with my friends from the U.S., I think. We just take the class, and then after the class, we just go back to our real life.”

Real life is more satisfying than Zoom life. Do we all agree? That’s why Zhang is waiting until the fall to try to reconnect for real with her USC friends.

“I would tell myself that I already know all those animation people, so it’s okay, so I can take a rest and I’ll come back to campus in person eventually and I’ll meet everyone again and then I’ll do the network stuff after I come back to the campus.”

“Friends are everything, right?”

That’s Dr. Kelly Greco. She’s USC’s assistant director of outreach and prevention services talking about the basic need for friendships.

“In terms of when you look at college students, where we’re at, they’re so important and I think in terms of being isolated and not being able to see and connect or hug or physically be with each other, it is even more important.”

Greco says research shows that loneliness is often associated with health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

“We thrive on connection and physical touch and connecting with others, and so, being social beings means that we really need to connect with others for positive mental health for our overall health.”

It’s been a rough year, each of us at our own separate desks in our own separate locations, connected only by Zoom or the internet. It may be changing... we hope. USC students are supposed to return to campus for in-person learning in the fall, to be together again! For now, all we can do is try to stay healthy in every way and make the best of it. Alexis Dugel, the freshman who said she’s had trouble meeting people, also says that she’s learned something during this difficult year, something that she will keep with her going forward.

“I’d say being on Zoom has made me more outgoing in, ultimately, being forced to talk to a lot of people, but also enjoying that, and I think that’s a lesson I could apply even when we get back to real life, just, like, the importance of putting yourself out there to meet as many people as you can, and that’s, like, a really good way to make friends, I think.”

While she waits for in-person classes, Dugel gets in her car at her home in Palos Verdes. She drives one hour to USC’s campus. There, she walks around and thinks about all that’s coming next, and how real life is supposed to be.