Creating Connections and Overcoming Isolation

By Megan Ellman

Spring Quarter of 2020 has been anything but normal. With classes online, the UCSB population

has dispersed with many students deciding to return home for the remainder of the quarter.

Although this time has been isolating and difficult for many, some Gauchos have found ways to

overcome this social isolation.

Virtual Yoga ~ Providing a Space for People to Help Themselves

Hannah McCartney is a fourth-year History of Art and Architecture student with a minor in Anthropology and Education who has been teaching yoga classes online. She worked as a yoga instructor at the local studio, Yoga Isla Vista before it shut down and has always thought about teaching yoga online. “Making yoga accessible via digital technology is a big goal of mine”, she said. When she received the news about spring classes transitioning online, she decided not to return to Isla Vista. Like many of us, Hannah found now she had a lot of free time on her hands and decided to start teaching yoga classes through zoom. 

Her goal is to make yoga attainable to everyone and create a safe space for people to practice. “I’m trying to make yoga as accessible as possible for people who do have like bodily things that keep them from doing other high impact activity” she said. Her classes are open to anyone, and she doesn’t charge a fee.

Teaching through zoom is not an exact replication of yoga classes that are taught in the studio. Since her students are muted and she cannot gauge their exertion level through their breathing, she makes her classes less exerting so that people of all levels can participate. She said, “I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me and say, ‘I’ve always been nervous about taking a studio class, but being that you’re offering them online has made me feel really comfortable.’”

Whether her students are experienced or new, everyone can benefit from it. Hannah is a firm believer in yoga teachings and she incorporates them into her classes. The teachings of mindfulness and the mind-body connection are especially important right now.

She said, “right now in quarantine, we’re remembering what it feels like to prioritize our health and our happiness.” That’s what her classes are about; creating a safe space for people to prioritize themselves. 

Far too often, people get so caught up in the daily stressors in their lives that they forget to take time for themselves. They don’t allow themselves the time to slow down and cultivate a mind-body relationship. Hannah honors her students by creating a space for them to do this.

UCSB Minecraft ~ An Online Community Created by the Pandemic, that will Outlast the Pandemic

Charles Neumann is a fourth-year Global Studies and Political Science double major who created a Minecraft server for UCSB students where they have been recreating the UCSB campus. He stresses that this was not his idea alone though. When he received the email about the spring quarter, he decided to post on the UCSB Free and For Sale Facebook page to see if anyone was interested in a Minecraft server for UCSB students. His post received a lot of interest and as a group they voted to use this server to recreate the UCSB campus. 

The campus is scaled one meter to one block. This project began with the construction of Storke Tower but has now expanded to include the University Center, the lagoon, the residence halls, Campbell hall, and even the 5-cent advice booth near Girvetz. Once they are finished with the campus, Charles says that they plan to construct Isla Vista as well. He even said that they will host a virtual graduation.

As of now there have been 640 people using the server. The majority of them are current UCSB students, but there have been a surprising number of alumni. “[This server is] just kind of reviving nostalgia.,” he said, “this is a great way to just kind of be connected to UCSB in some way.” 

Charles says that the most rewarding aspect of this has been the interactions with all the people. “I can’t thank enough the people who have been a part of this,” he said, “this could have easily just been a little thing that some people went on, but people were vested and interested enough to make it something even bigger.”

Although this project was created because of the pandemic, its work will outlast the pandemic. Charles created an online community that has enabled UCSB students to connect regardless of physical distance and work towards a common goal.

Online Peer Counseling ~ A Support System During Isolation

Alaska Yokota is a fifth-year Psychology major with a minor in Art who is using her academic knowledge and personal experiences to provide online mental health support and counseling to the UCSB community. When the quarantine first hit, Alaska was dealing with the emotional pain of a breakup and the boredom of isolation. She wanted to talk to someone about it, but she knew that given the current circumstances, not everyone has the emotional capacity to listen to her problems. 

“I was like, where can I find someone who wants to do that?” she said, “I would. I would love it if I listened to other people.” 

Alaska created a post on the UCSB Free and For Sale Facebook page, offering to provide support, advice, or just listen to people’s problems. “I want to make myself available for people because I know that it’s really hard to get a therapist right now or it’s too expensive or you can’t see them ever”, she said. 

The people she has talked with are usually UCSB students, and they are all dealing with problems related to COVID-19. She talks with these people through Facebook. Usually when they contact her, they are looking for more of a conversation or a friendly ear. Often, Alaska will check up on them every week to make sure they’re doing well. 

The most rewarding feeling for her is when people will contact her weeks after they first spoke, thanking her for the advice or support. “To think that you could like make a difference in someone’s life in a positive direction…,” she said, “It’s not a skill or talent that I have. It’s just a passion that I have, and anybody can do that.”

When Alaska talks with these people, she’s speaking from a place of experience, or at least empathy. She’s not a therapist and does not claim to be. What she is, is someone who genuinely cares about her community and its wellbeing. 

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