When Lauren Grimanis ran a rural education organization in a remote community in Ghana with no running water or electricity, she turned to yoga and meditation to handle the stresses of daily life.
“While I had community around me, I still felt socially isolated,” said Grimanis, MBA 20, who founded the nonprofit Akaa Project in 2008. “I had to climb a hill into a tomato farm behind my house to get cell service so it was difficult to connect with friends and family.”
Grimanis had no idea that what she’d learned about the value of mindfulness in Africa might prove a handy tool for both helping herself and her tight-knit MBA class cope with the isolation and frustrations of social distancing under the COVID-19 outbreak. As head of the Haas Mindfulness Club, Grimanis not only exercises online with her MBA friends; she’s also put together a Google doc listing everything from free meditation apps to CorePower Yoga classes and shared the doc with both FTMBA classes.
“Last week people were feeling really frustrated and anxious, both understandable feelings. I wanted to help, so we jumped into action,” she said. “We really want to get people to think more positively and use mindfulness in their new daily routines.”
Cheering each other up
Under COVID-19 restrictions, student life has continued online. Joey Parker, MBA 21, organized a toast on Zoom at 9 pm on St. Patrick’s Day for all MBA students. Chris Lee, MBA 20, celebrated his recent 30th birthday online, surrounded by about 50 of his MBA friends. The new reality won’t replace the in-person courtyard lunches, cohort parties, or Tahoe weekends, students say, but they’re working hard to use tech to keep their communities together and stay focused on their work.
The same rings true for evening and weekend students. Terrell Baptiste, EWMBA 20, said his classmates are phoning each other and tapping into the class’ WhatsApp chat group to keep in touch. About 40 classmates are using the app to cheer each other up or initiate discussions about the pros and cons of a shelter-in-place order and whether a stimulus package would help stabilize the U.S. economy.
Haas undergraduates, too, are finding ways to stay virtually connected.
Shun Lei Sin, BS 20, uses Zoom and has joined a Slack channel called SF Entourage, a private virtual community, where she can participate in cooking competitions, play games online or start a book club with friends. Zaheer Ebtikar, BS 20, uses Slack, Instagram, and Twitter to connect with friends while he finishes the semester at home. Neha Dubey, BS 21, sends Google hangout links to classmates, inviting them to virtual lunches. She’s also tapping into Berkeley’s Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) to stay in touch with friends.
“One of my friends is the community engagement associate for SERC and she’s hosting virtual study sessions every Tuesday and organizing baking classes and Netflix parties. It’s just another way to have that human interaction,” Dubey said.
Despite not being able to see her friends in person, Dubey said life under COVID-19 has brought her friends closer together.
“All of my friends have really bonded through this. We’re all making an effort to be a larger part of our everyday lives,” said Dubey. “It’s a lot less texting and a lot more calling.”
For some international students in countries where borders are shutting, the decision to stay on campus or go home, depending on border and visa situations, is difficult. Before Thais Esteves, MBA 21, returned home for the summer to Brazil this week her friends threw her one last impromptu party. The party, initiated by a handful of classmates who were playing an online board game together, started after they sent a few photos to WhatsApp with a link to the virtual celebration. A bunch more classmates joined in to celebrate Esteves’ birthday, and to say goodbye before she boarded the plane. They donned costumes, as they often do at MBA parties, including a polar bear, a viking hat, a unicorn, and a ship’s captain.
A sari, never worn
Many students are grappling with the possibility of a virtual commencement. Ije Durga, MBA 20, said she understands why commencement can’t be held in-person, but is hurt that she won’t be able to say goodbye to her friends. Durga, who worked in India before coming to Haas, is also disappointed that she won’t be wearing a special sari she’d picked out for the ceremony and ordered from India. “I was looking forward to putting that on and surprising everyone—an African woman in a sari,” she said. She said the friend who was going to bring it to her can’t even travel to the U.S. now. “The world has changed so much in just two weeks,” she added.
For many students, spring break meant canceling planned trips, and treks, and suddenly wondering what to do with all that time off. On Thursday, Ana Christina Alanis, MBA 21 and the class’ VP of social, was canceling a web of spring break flights to Colombia. She’d planned to visit Medellin and then scuba dive in Cartagena with a group of 12 students, including her roommate. She was looking forward to relaxing for nine days and a break from her job search. “Spring break starts tomorrow and I have absolutely nothing to do,” she said. The upside? She might teach an online cooking class to Haasies—and she might be able to reschedule her trip with her Colombian classmates, who couldn’t go with her this time.
Get your Zumba on!
After in-person classes stopped, the FTMBA Association and Alex D’Agostino and Annie Powers, both MBA 20, got together and worked on a spreadsheet of classes that could be taught by students for students. Lipika Grover, MBA 20, is one of the first to go for it. She taught her first Zumba class ever on Zoom on Thursday morning. Grover, who had taken many Bollywood classes and loves to dance, was live teaching by 10 am from her home in Houston, where she returned to be with her family.
“It will hopefully lift people’s moods and we’ll get some exercise—wherever we are,” said Grover. “Virtual is the best way to be together and to be strong now. We have to make the best of what we have and come together as a community.”