Detours from home: When video calls are the only option left

[Editor’s note: Detours from home is a Rappler column where readers can share about the new things they have learned while in quarantine. An incoming junior college student shares how she inevitably come to love video calls that she used to hate. You, too, can share your own Detours from home story.]

Prior to the quarantine, I wasn’t really a big fan of video calls.

College friends find this fact funny. They got to know me as someone whose extraversion was borderline exhausting; it made no sense to them that I hated having to talk via Skype or Zoom. We’ll see each other in person soon, I remember saying in hopes of getting away from their planned video calls. We don’t have to do this. I was proven wrong not long after. 

My university suspended classes for a week and, only a day after they announced it, my mother insisted that I come home with her to the province. She was convinced Manila would go on city-wide lockdown – a notion so absurd to me that I remember packing only the bare minimum because I believed I’d be back in my dormitory in no time. Later that night, she would smugly show me the announcements about community quarantine. Told you so. 

Eventually, my university mass promoted us for the year and announced intentions of moving our next term online. As my friends and I joked about physically seeing each other in 2021, we did the best we could to face the various truths of our new reality: cancelled or postponed plans, socially distanced birthday greetings, and organizational duties done remotely. 

It was initially bearable. I suddenly had the time to do a lot of things I had to put on hold because of college. I was cooking non-stop, reading books I bought ages ago, and making the quirky earrings I always wanted to wear. But as the weeks went by with only my family and my baked goods to keep me company, I started to realize that cabin fever was creeping up on me. 

No amount of tagged memes or private rooms could fill the void of human interaction. Hesitantly – and finally – I reached out to a small friend group and floated the idea of video chatting one Friday night. All three of them answered on the first ring. 

At this point, I think it’s important to dissect why I’m so averse to video calls. 

Living in a small house with many people gives me very little privacy; having no room of my own is also a setback in itself, sending me scurrying for any quiet space whenever I have to be on a call. Time and time again, I’ve had to swallow the embarrassment of having a cramped room or a messy attic as the backdrop of my calls. (This is why Zoom’s backgrounds were such a life-saver: It provided a cloak to the living situation I didn’t like showing to just anybody.) 

Aside from that, I used to constantly feel out of place in video call settings. Body cues weren’t readable and awkward silences were inevitable. For all my outgoingness, I just couldn’t seem to socialize my way through Messenger calls. Video chatting wore me out far more than in-person interactions, but the quarantine didn’t leave me with much of a choice. 

On our first call, my barkada caught up on what we were doing over the lockdown. They proposed that we call again next Friday. Reluctantly, I agreed. On that second call, we played Cards Against Humanity and, then asked if we still wanted to go on at the same time next week. This time, I was a little less reserved in saying yes. 

In the past two months – every week, without fail – we’ve presented PowerPoints on our music taste, shared our screens to watch K-Pop videos and Thai dramas, and played every online game imaginable. Since then, I’ve also started streaming movies with my best friend on Wednesday evenings and enduring weekly meetings with orgmates over Google Meet. There have been no comments about the background of my home or the clumsiness of my communication, and for that I’m grateful. 

While I’m not any less insecure or tense – and still a much bigger fan of face-to-face interaction – I like to think I’m easing into the unfamiliarity of forming connections over a video call. 

Some things just don’t seem to change, though. The same way we used to anticipate our Friday nights back at college – impatient and excited, whether there’s an agenda or not – is the same way we wait for our end-of-the-week video calls. Quarantine or no, we’re still just students greeting each other through our screens until we can see each other back on our campus. –

Andrea Mikaela Llanes is an incoming junior at Ateneo de Manila University. Currently, she is in pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe and film recommendations for her weekly Wednesday watch party with her best friend. She lives in Lipa City, Batangas.