I remember the day my professor told us about Soliya. It seems so long ago with everything going on these days. When I understood what it was, I was super excited. I have always loved meeting and talking to new people from different cultures and background than mine. I felt like it was going to be a very nice experience and that I would even get out of it with new friendships. If you know me, you know that I am a very outgoing person, so I wasn’t worried at all. I don’t know why but I had set my expectations really high for this program.
Starting off our 4 week journey, my first session was on a Tuesday from 1 to 3 pm. Unfortunately, I had some connection issues so I logged in an hour late. As soon as I opened the session, I saw 8 women in front of me, to my coincidence, one of them was actually my friend Sara from class. I didn’t really understand what was going on at first. I quickly understood that we had 2 facilitators and the rest were participants like me from different colleges from around the world. 2 girls from Lebanon, 2 girls from Italy and one from USA and then there was Sara and me from Egypt. I still don’t know where the facilitators where from though.
My first session was a bit disappointing. It didn’t meet my expectations at all. With all that is going on, I thought we would be having an actual conversation about what was happening and how each one of us is living through it in their own country. It would have been a great bonding session. But we didn’t, instead the facilitators asked us very vague questions about online communication and I wasn’t as interested as I thought I would be. Even the way it was structured was very different than any online class or discussion I had. We had to take turns in our conversation, I don’t know it didn’t feel smooth at all. Sometimes even very awkward and there would be a couple of moments of silence, without anyone saying anything.
In another session, we started to feel a bit more comfortable and the conversation was more interesting so it was more enjoyable. We also did breakout rooms to have a conversation privately beside the group discussion, that was nice.
Unfortunately, I missed the other sessions because of internet problems so we had other alternatives offered by our professor that we also revolving around online communication and dialogue.
The first one was a Zoom discussion about wellbeing in times of COVID-19. It was with different people from around the world with our professor. I really enjoyed it. Even if I didn’t really talk but I was participating in the chat and everyone was so friendly. We all talked about different things and how we felt and I honestly didn’t feel awkward at all. The hour went by very smoothly, the topic was very interesting and we didn’t even need navigation. They didn’t even feel like strangers in a way, it was fascinating to talk about something common and happening to all of us at the same moment of time while being miles apart.
Finally, my last online discussion was also a Zoom discussion, this time about caring for students. It was a bigger group than the previous one but it was also very enjoyable. It was nice to hear professors talking about different ways and techniques they tried to use to show students that they care about them during these difficult times and through this online transition. The chat was also very nice for everyone to participate, and it was interesting to hear the point of view of students like me and tell the professors what we think.
To conclude, I think that this Soliya and the other online discussions came at a very right time in my life. Having talked to different people from around the world and seeing them through my laptop screen while being quarantined at home and having no human interactions at all, felt nice for a while. Technology really is great sometimes.