Remaining in close and active contact with students during and between lockdowns was also a challenge for the hmdw, the mdw’s student union. Which led to the idea of setting up a virtual hangout. “We got the idea from a similar format being used by the mdw’s administrative personnel,” explains Martin Furch, who heads the office of the hmdw. Distance learning and the cancellation of all events made it necessary for the hmdw to come up with a low-threshold virtual format that would facilitate exchange. “We wanted to give students the opportunity to ask questions as well as to have contact with like-minded people and the hmdw.” So every month, they sent out a Zoom link to students and planned informative emphases on specific topics, and members of the mdw’s teaching staff occasionally also got involved—to do things such as demonstrate relaxation exercises for those who were interested. “The teachers, too, noticed how some of their students were quite isolated,” says Furch. By and by, these virtual hangouts grew more and more popular with more and more participants, and sometimes, the hmdw would also add extra events as needed. “It was really great for everyone to see people again and hear about the situations they were having to deal with. And in the spring, we encouraged students to get out into nature and tank up on sunlight and oxygen after the long winter months—or to catch up on hobbies that they don’t have much time for when things are more normal.”

It was a context that enabled discussion of everything—technical problems, financial worries, or even just how everyone was doing. “One thing that people were wondering about was where they could borrow technical equipment if their own was insufficient. They also wondered where nearby testing centres could be found and whether they were free for people who weren’t enrolled in an Austrian public insurance scheme. Other topics included slots for psychosocial assistance for students as well as alternative options for practicing, since a lot of neighbours—themselves often forced to work in home office settings—were already really stressed.” This past academic year saw even the hmdw’s tango course held online, demonstrating yet another entirely new way of staying in shape while staying home. But for this autumn, of course, the hope is that there can be a return to normal university life: “We really do want to see student life get back to its normal, accustomed patterns, but we’re also very happy to be there for students whenever things do have to take place at a distance.”

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