By Chia-Ai Hsu| January 28, 2021
Campus reporter, Chia-Ai Hsu, speaks to the founders and managers of student-run Instagram accounts created to engage new students, discussing their experiences and reasons.
On February 12, 2020, an Instagram account called University of Amsterdam Bios (@uva_bios), was created to welcome and engage first-year University of Amsterdam students from the class of 2023. As of January 24, 2021 the account has already reached over 2500 students, shared almost 500 biographies and hosted five WhatsApp groups for over 1000 students. From these posts and group chats, students have been able to reach out to others with similar interests and socialize safely. Leila Hammoud, an 18-year-old first-year Communication Science student, is the creator and only manager of UvA Bios-
“My intention in the beginning was to help one of my friends who had just moved to Amsterdam [a year before]. He had trouble getting to know people and I thought that since most of the people coming to Amsterdam are going to be new and international, everyone is going through the same thing. The university wouldn’t be organizing too many events on its own, like you need to be a part of associations to go to these events [so] people need to put in a lot of effort to get to know people.” Thus, Hammoud created the account to “make people not feel alone, allow people to put themselves out there very easily and just reach out to each other.”
Around May, 2020, Leila made roommate matching surveys and conducted demographic research on the nationalities and majors of the students from the class of 2023. Recently, she uses the account as a platform to promote talented student artists. Andrei Volcov, a 19-year-old first-year political science student, felt grateful about the account and voluntarily helped Leila.
“I was involved in every single documentation of the students, and also ran statistics on the demographics of majors”, said Volcov. “We are currently focusing on how to help first-year students, even the ones that are abroad, to settle down in Amsterdam.”
At first, Leila promoted her account on Reddit and it took a few days before people actually reached out. Students started finding it through Instagram once it was shared by the official UvA page, leading to significant online word-of-mouth exposure. From the growing number of followers and the growing engagements, Leila has received a lot of positive feedback. An 18-years-old first-year business administration student, Thanos Koltsidas, feels grateful for having UvA Bios.
“UvA Bios changed my life, […] all the friends I have now are because of these group chats.,” said Koltsidas, “We all started talking back in summer, so now people have some friends. They don’t really have to go outside and meet people, they already know some people and if they don’t, they can just text the group chat. Everybody seems really friendly and [is] willing to hang out with anyone.”
As the account grew bigger, Leila thought of plans for future students-
“I think I’m going to be doing it for every first-year generation. I can allow takeovers, give tips to future students for applications”, said Hammoud, “I’m really trying to make the move here to make it as simple as it can be [for students]. It will be so much easier if you are together with other international students that are going through the same thing.”
Aside from UvA Bios, several other student-run Instagram accounts have also appeared recently. These pages include UvA Confessions (@uvahappenings), UvA memes (@uvamemeplug), UvA Advice (@uva.advice) and UvA LOVE (@uva.crush). The anonymous confession submission page, UvA Confession, crossed 1800 followers in January and is managed by an anonymous student.
“[The creator] wants to build a community of students at the UvA who feel like they have a story to tell from their university experience,” said the creator. “By making confessions anonymous I hope it helps those people come forward who otherwise might not. This helps them to connect and have a voice within their university.”
Regardless of the functions and intentions of these UvA student pages, the accounts helped students stay engaged with their university life despite the global and national restrictions in place. Helpful as these communities are, we are yet to see how the university itself steps up to fill in the social gap created by the “new normal”. Stay tuned to find out more!
“UVA Bios changed my life…” – Koltsidas
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