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How some universities are doing frosh week amid a global pandemic

Most universities and colleges have moved their frosh week events online as thousands of first-year students across the country start their studies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Concerts, scavenger hunts, tours are all virtual

Sofia Zamorano is entering her first year in engineering at the University of Toronto. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Frosh week is traditionally a time for thousands of first-year students heading to Canadian universities and colleges to settle in, make connections and get to know their campus, but they will be getting a much different experience this fall. 

"It definitely challenged our notion of what Frosh week can be," said Gabe Sher, the orientation chair for the University of Toronto's engineering department. 

Not only have most students' classes moved online, so has all the first week fun since most schools have transferred their orientation week events online in light of the global pandemic. 

"It's exciting to go to campus, have an excuse to get a bit loud and crazy, but everyone's making sacrifices right now and I don't think this is any different," said Sher. 

That means the annual ritual of dyeing oneself purple at Canada's engineering schools is on hiatus this year. Instead, organizers have sent out some face paint in each welcome package to try to replicate the experience as much as possible. 

Many schools like Ryerson University have created virtual campus tours. (Ryerson University)

Most Canadian post-secondary schools have also moved their scavenger hunts, concerts and campus tours online. It's happening at a time when many young people are entering university without having experienced the rites of passage that high school graduates have taken for granted for decades in this country. They've also had to do without socializing with their peers in their last year of studies, as the novel coronavirus closed down secondary schools across Canada in March. 

"It's a little bittersweet especially after not getting much of a Grade 12 year without graduation or prom," said Sofia Zamorano, who is starting her first year in chemical engineering at U of T. 

She said there will be smaller, distanced group events at parks before the official start of Frosh week on Labour Day and she hopes to meet new people there.  

At the University of British Columbia, frosh week will have a mix of live and pre-recorded events

At Toronto's Ryerson University, orientation week leaders have tried to create virtual events that are more interactive. 

This year, engineering traditions, like dyeing oneself purple, won't happen. (CBC)

The annual fashion show and concerts will have more participation from performers, according Esther Deng, Ryerson University's orientation events lead. 

"Instead of just having someone walk down a runway we have them share their experience and why they chose their outfits ... rather than just someone performing or watching a performance."

Angelica Voutsinas is starting her first year in political science and film at McGill University. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

As the new reality of the school year sinks in, many students are keeping a positive attitude.

Angelica Voutsinas, who is attending McGill University in Montreal, says she's determined to make the most of the situation by participating in the virtual events and eventually hopes to form her own bubble in the city. 

"It's a little disappointing, but no one else is going to be able to say they had their first year of university during a global pandemic." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller. Email her at Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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