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5 Ways to Celebrate Birthdays Virtually

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The COVID-19 pandemic has made it anything but easy to gather for special occasions, be it weddings, reunions, or even birthdays. In a year with so much tumult and confusion, birthdays can feel particularly significant. Unfortunately, to limit the spread of the virus, many families and individuals have had to forego their birthday celebrations entirely.

A little boy holding a red plate in his hand, while trying to blow out the candles on his cake, his dad is on the right, and a little dark curly haired girl with a dress is across is on the left.
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However, there is always more than one way to do things, and the challenges and changes in 2020 have given everyone the opportunity to put their creative skills to good use. With the rise of video calls via Zoom and other platforms, families and friends have proven that there are still many ways to celebrate birthdays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1).Virtual Surprise Party

Surprise parties have become a traditional way to celebrate birthdays by now, but the tradition doesn’t have to fade away with the loss of in-person parties. With Zoom, Skype, or Facetime serving as optimal replacements for real-life meetings, it’s all too easy to convince an unsuspecting friend to log on for a virtual surprise party.

Under the guise of a normal business call, anyone can join a meeting with the intent of working, only to find their expectations blown away as they celebrate their birthday in an original, safe way.

Three children looking at their grandfather online while celebrating a birthday virtually during COVID-19.
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2). Joint Virtual Birthday Party

With so many events canceled or missed out on because of COVID-19, it might be difficult to catch up on all of the celebrations when it’s safe to do so. Many people who have anticipated their birthdays for weeks and months may feel disappointed or left out as the current environment discourages celebratory gatherings.

Fortunately, in a time where virtual gatherings are commonplace, celebrating multiple birthdays at once can be a fun, unique way to create a party for many people who might otherwise miss out on their special day, and it gives you the opportunity to experiment with all kinds of virtual celebrations during COVID-19.

A young man with short brown hair and a plaid shirt, and another young man with short black hair watch someone in a video, while celebrating birthdays virtually during COVID 19.
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3). Birthday Care Package

As difficult as it is to gather in person during the times of COVID-19, there is no shortage of ways to communicate with friends and family, and mail is one of the most traditional ways to do so.

If you can’t be with your loved one on their special day, it can be incredibly thoughtful to send them a present or birthday care package for their at-home celebrations.

After they receive it, invite them to join you on a video call to open the package, if possible. It will be a special yet safe way for you to watch the surprise on their face as they open your gift.

A birthday care package containing multiple fashion magazines, a bag of persimmons, a package of coffee, a package of flaky sea salt, candy, tea, and pesto dip, and a big white piece of paper.
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4). Recorded Message

One of the many losses of COVID-19 is face-to-face communication, and many people still experience this, even as others return to work and school. Being unable to meet in person, many people have gone months without hearing their loved ones’ voices.

Around your birthday, it can be especially hard to go without hearing your friends and family wish you well and sing the traditional song.

However, one way to show your love for a friend on their birthday might be through a recorded voice message, a quick and easy way to express your excitement.

The message can be as short or as long as you want, and it can be a very personal way to show your loved one you care on their special day, as well as giving them something to hold on to even after their birthday has passed.

A brunette girl sitting outside on the grass on her cellphone, wearing a dark green shirt, blue shorts, and dark shoes.
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5). Birthday Parade

With the onset of COVID-19 and social-distancing laws, many people got creative with ways to safely visit their friends and family. One of the most popular is the socially-distanced parade, and there have been no shortage of these for birthday celebrations.

These parades can be as grand and creative as you like, with signs and decorations to adorn every car in the line-up. Just invite your loved one to step outside and cheer them on as you ride by. It can create an unforgettable birthday memory during a stressful and dark time.

A car decorated with food and birthday items with four people in the car, driving down the street.
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So much was lost during the COVID-19 pandemic this past year, including countless memories and celebrations. However, there are always ways to show our love and support for friends and family, and we have every opportunity to express our creativity for the people in our lives who reach exciting milestones.

Now that everyone has access to Zoom, Skype, and Facetime, friends and family can still create amazing virtual birthday celebrations during COVID-19. With a little brainstorming and work, it’s easy to turn anyone’s birthday into a memory that they’ll never forget, even during a global pandemic.

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College Life

How People are Connecting Online During COVID-19

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4 people connected online through their phones.
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Connectivity has become more important than ever in our ever-changing society. Amid the many horrors of this year, many people are finding social interaction to be crucial to their daily life, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has complicated that. As a result, friends and strangers alike have gotten creative with how they connect with each other online.

Friends and family have certainly had no problem staying in touch. Between texting and apps like Snapchat, it’s no trouble for individuals to keep in touch with their loved ones. Even a traditional phone call and the popular Zoom have allowed for friends and family to see each other when catching up, creating an experience as close to in-person as it can be right now.

The real trick this year has been meeting new people. While this might only be a problem for some, many people, especially college students, have struggled to make new friends amid social distancing guidelines. It has given many the chance to try out independence, but the loss of social interaction can be upsetting for some, and even unhealthy for others.

A person connected online using an iPad.
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Humans are very social beings, and to lose that aspect of our day-to-day lives can be detrimental to our mental health. However, there are still several opportunities every day to meet new people as a part of various communities, and those relationships have all the potential of any real-life friendship.

This summer, with the increase in stories being shared by members of marginalized communities in accordance with the Black Lives Matter movement, thousands of people discovered these shared experiences through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The interconnectivity this created granted many their first opportunity to see the world from another perspective.

Minority communities from every corner of the world came together this summer in response to police brutality and other social injustices. Twitter in particular offered many an outlet to give live updates on protests, activism, and individual stories. This helped to create awareness everywhere, and even celebrities joined the mix to connect with protestors and minority communities demanding justice

One of the most astounding examples of the power of these connections has come through the enduring relationships founded on social media websites. Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, online connections between individuals were not uncommon, especially among young people who were adept at developing relationships through the Internet. However, with recent events limiting our access and opportunities, others have had to get creative with how they interact, spiraling into a mass connection of individuals all over the world..

Once, these friendships might have been concerning, even unhealthy. Social interaction is meant to be a personal, and emotional dependency on another person and does not always thrive via text, email, tweets, or any other form of online communication. However, many people have no choice now but to cultivate these relationships online. Whether it be for their own health or the health of others, an online connection is one of the few safe ways we have to maintain social interaction.

A close up of Twitter with the blue bird avatar and their motto of
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This, of course, raises many concerns regarding universal access to the Internet. Within the last decade alone, the Internet has become such a vital part of our everyday lives, and many people, especially students, might find it difficult to navigate their daily lives without it. In a world that now relies almost entirely on the Internet, there are obvious feelings of distress when it comes to how some people will stay connected.

As we continue to adapt to a post-COVID world, this is only one of many issues that will need to be addressed. Beyond safety, public health, access to resources, and more, we are seeing a build-up of social issues that will need correcting, in addition to the ongoing threats of police brutality and institutionalized racism. Already, there have been responses to this as protestors demand change in major cities globally. Their fight is ongoing, and they have made note to recognize the plight of people battling the COVID-19 pandemic and these other social injustices.

There has always been a feeling of distrust toward the Internet. It comes with so many unknowns, especially as data revealed in recent years has proven that our information is not as secure as we once thought it was. However, it has given us access to a surplus of information, educating countless people on topics that they do not experience themselves.

The social connections formed online has allowed individuals to share their stories, serving only to deepen others’ understanding of the world. In the coming years, it is likely we will continue to see this reliance on social media and the Internet rise, and, if the day ever comes where we can safely interact in person again, we will have been bettered by the connections that began behind a screen.

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College Life

Hallowed Be Thy Counsel: 7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Amid Pandemic

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A college student taking an online course on zoom
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Zoom has taken the forefront in the past several months as tens of thousands of college students across the U.S. have had to finish the fall semester completely online. Other campuses have limited in-person contact on campus in order to best suit COVID-19 guidelines and effectively keep students safe. Even then, certain classes are online or in a hybrid format whether it’s due to teacher preferences, classroom size, and such. As a result, there are many students that are still at home, waiting for the go-ahead to return to campus. This also means that many students do not have access to on-campus counseling services or other means of support.

One of the major things that college students need for a variety of purposes is counseling. Like in many situations, some may need it often or some may barely need it at all for both kinds of people and all those in between, it does not change the fact that it is essential. People go into counseling with a certain expectation and intend to have results by the time they are finished. 

Some colleges may not offer full-fledged counseling due to the number of students or certain behavior that would lead them to direct students to off-campus services in the long run. With students at home, such services are now relayed through systems like Zoom, and students who prefer person-to-person interaction are now taking a hit while to others, it may just feel the same or functional enough to get the point across as needed. 

Students who have a therapist know very well that therapy is a monetized industry just like all the rest and the internet will not spare you because there are plenty of sites that have the intention of helping student groups through a paywall. In a time like this, it’s even more understandable why there would be more costs attached to counseling. This is besides the fact that counseling is a business as many fields of work have taken a slump during the pandemic and people are, therefore, itching for a method to make money. That does not mean you should avoid finding counseling off-campus, just simply walk in with the mindset that it may not be free like it is on-campus. 

While interacting with others may be more difficult now, there are simple ways to improve your mental health amid the pandemic. 

Write down the things that you believe are problems 

If something feels funny or off about the particular one you?re writing on that list, it probably is not as much of an issue as you make it seem. If you?re on the more artistic side of things, you may want to consider drawing your problems. With how interpretive the world of art is, decide how you would communicate to others what you?re facing. If this all sounds silly, there?s a strong chance that you are simply roadblocking yourself with problems you think you have but actually do not. 

Establish a plan 

Organize your academic schedule and incorporate times when you will seek counseling into that schedule. Walk into the situation with even the most minimal of interests assembled. If you?re undecided on a major, think about the things that made you put so much money into backing your education in the first place. 

Remind yourself of the importance of support

Many students crack under pressure in college. It was never meant to be easy and people who make it seem easy are probably not even achieving the best they truly can. There will always be exceptions, but you need to assess where you are on the scale for your school?s students. It takes some people longer than others to realize that college is simply not for them and that?s just fine. We all deal with different circumstances and one bad month could mean two good ones afterward, but you?d have to stick around to find out. 

Do what you actually care about

It’s not particularly difficult to find out when people have artificial connections to certain things or concepts rather than genuine ones. It can be argued that people can cope with certain problems with things of their interest and if this has not worked for you before, you ought to take a deeper dive into it and establish an array of things you care about or enjoy to do that can prove to be therapeutic. 

Spend time with friends 

You have friends for a reason and friends that you engage the most frequently with should be open to discussing issues that you are facing. You may do it already or even do it subconsciously. Having a support system in your friend group can save your time in searching for another place to talk through issues. 

Try to limit your social media use

Some people think that social media makes them a better person. Some people think that they were created for social media as it is. And some people are continuously putting themselves in harm?s way and shaking off hate responses. You truly can be putting yourself in an unnecessary position with extra screen time or extensive non-essential engagement. When it comes to opinionated issues, surrounding yourself with similar opinions or ideas can help increase your feeling of belonging. Don?t let strangers bother you more than those with whom you share a relationship. There are plenty of people strategically placed across the internet to get on your nerves and you simply should not let them gain satisfaction from doing so.

Go outside for fresh air

Besides the fact that Vitamin D levels affect your mood amongst other things, schooling from home gives you another excuse to be outside to shake up your day. Therefore, you should take up that opportunity whenever possible. It can be an appropriate way to escape your work and even give you ideas you probably would not be able to get otherwise that day. 

In crisis, you must make the best of the means available to you. Simple habits can make a big difference in your life and help you improve your mental health amid the pandemic. Also, if you find value in counseling, perhaps that Zoom meeting is precisely what you require and it would be better than having no support at all.

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College Life

5 Ways to Thrive During Your Sophomore Year of College

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Three college students in their sophomore year posing for a pic
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Freshman year has come and gone. Maybe you’ve found a niche in your college’s social spheres. Maybe you’ve spent the last year discovering yourself and putting academics on the backburner. And that’s great — but sophomore year changes things. Many colleges require students to declare their major during sophomore year, and that’s usually when things change from carefree to serious. To help with the next step of your college experience, here’s a list of five helpful things every college sophomore should do during this college year.

1. Get In Contact with Potential Major Advisors

Considering how important your major will be throughout the rest of your tenure at college, getting to know the members of whatever department you’re thinking about majoring in is a great place to start. Having a good advisor is a huge help in college, as their another resource to draw on, whether the issue is debating the merits of a certain class or balancing your transcript.

Additionally, many students form a close bond with their advisors which can survive even beyond your time as a student. Getting to know the people who you might want to ask to be your advisor is a great place to start before making the decision. And don’t worry about it if you don’t end up liking whoever you select — most colleges allow you to change your advisor if you feel like you two aren’t a perfect fit.

2. Learn About Your College’s Career Services Center

Many colleges offer some variation on a career services department whose whole job is to help students find jobs, build resumes, and prepare for entering the working world upon graduation. While many freshmen neglect these services, sophomore year is a great time to begin using this incredible resource you have access to.

Even if you have no idea what kind of job you’d be interested in having, your career services center can help you learn what kind of opportunities are available in any given field or for your major after graduation and help you form a plan to achieve whatever goals you’re aiming for. Whether you have no idea where to start or have a twelve-point plan ready to go, Career Services is an underutilized resource that any sophomore should absolutely take advantage of.

3. Begin Looking Into Internships & Jobs

Building off the prior tip, sophomore year is a great time to begin finding internships and jobs to fill in your resume. While it may seem like you’ve still got plenty of time to begin getting work experience, as you continue forward in your college career the demands classes put on you are only going to get steeper, meaning the earlier you start the easier time you’ll have balancing your schedule later on.

Additionally, many potential employers will look at your resume to see how you spent your time in college and any experience you gain will be a definite benefit. Internships also provide a foot in the door and, fairly often, an offer of full-time employment. Regardless, work experience is great to have and sophomore year is a great time to start getting it.

4. Take Classes Outside of Your Normal Range

Maybe you spent freshman year taking whatever classes looked interesting, or steadily hitting requirements for graduation, or a mishmash of the two. Regardless, sophomore year is a great time to put yourself out there and take courses that you normally never would.

A big part of what makes college such a wonderful experience is the ability to broaden your horizons and meet new and interesting people. That extends to classes.

Taking, say, an intro dance course, or a history of African folklore, or an examination of feminist inquiry is a fantastic way to gain a new perspective on the world and, quite possibly, discover a new passion.

5. Attend Networking Events

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full effect, this has become a bit harder, but networking is still an essential skill to learn and sophomore year is a great time to start. Many colleges host events specifically for students to put out feelers into the professional world, like Skidmore College’s Career Jam, which “brings parents, alumni, and students together for conversation around a topic on every student’s mind: careers” according to their official website. Even with the coronavirus, many schools are still offering these events virtually. They’re a great way to network with other students and alums, or simply get a better idea of what the professional world looks like and what you might want your place in it to be.

Sophomore year is a huge benchmark in your college experience, where you really start laying the groundwork for the rest of your time at college and even beyond, including entering the working world. With the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s harder and harder to plan for a future that’s so uncertain. Hopefully, these tips will help you put your best foot forward as you continue onward into the next stage of your life as a college student.

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