Adam Särnell - Authorsarnell@kth.se
Starting August 1st KTH once again made its facilities open for students after being closed since March 18th. Usually, new students can expect weeks of activities held by THS and the different chapters to make the start of their studies as good as possible – but what does a reception look like during a pandemic? Osqledaren has spoken to Gokul Panneerselvam, Head of THS International, and Johan Hamredahl, Reception Coordinator at THS, to find out how the national and international reception have been adapted to this year’s circumstances.
This year there are 19 parallel receptions being held at KTH and usually there are about 5000 students and organizers participating. For many people the reception is the first contact with student life and a period that lays the foundation for several years to come. One of the main purposes is to give new students the opportunity to get to know their coursemates as well as older students, the reason being that teamwork and mutual support tends to be helpful when facing different challenges at KTH.
“The most important thing is that new students get to know each other and start to feel like a part of their education and university. That has specifically been brought up this year as we asked ourselves why we even should organize a reception; that the biggest reason is that students at KTH usually study by collaborating with their coursemates”, says Johan.
It is not just THS that believed hosting the reception was important. When asked why the reception was not canceled despite an ongoing pandemic he answers:
“At a very early stage, we discussed whether it is worth canceling the reception and the answer from 99.99% of people, not only from the student side but also from KTH's side, was that we cannot afford to cancel the reception because the value in socialising is so important. Besides, we also know that there will be many digital solutions on the education side in the coming period. People will not be on campus as often as usual and if you isolate yourself without having met any students, you will also be on your own when there are problems and you need support."
Gokul describes a similar reasoning:
”For me, the international reception was really helpful when I was here as a new international student. Exploring, trying different kinds of food and activities as well as meeting a lot of people. It’s easy to underestimate how much the international reception means to the students but it is in fact really important and KTH acknowledges that. They really wanted it to happen despite Corona and all – they understand the value of it.”
The planning for the reception started long before KTH closed down in spring and at the start of the year there were no indications that the reception would have to be adjusted. Instead, they gradually had to rethink as the pandemic spread:
“In the beginning the virus spread pretty slowly. It did not look that dangerous and a bit naively we said that it probably will be over by the time the reception starts. Eventually the news arrived that the first date where they would even consider to let go of the restriction with 50 people was approximately the first of August, two weeks before the reception began. At that point we said that we cannot expect this situation to pass by, but that we must plan for the restrictions remaining the same as they are now”, says Johan.
The international reception, which welcomed the first round of students as early August 1st and a second round two weeks later, has also gradually adapted. As with the national reception, the turning point was when the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people was introduced by the government on the advice of the Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten):
“Around that time we decided to start modifying the events – the project manager and the event managers worked really hard on that. They almost had to plan a second reception by modifying the events and by brainstorming a lot of ideas about how to make it safe and how everything could be done. We, of course, cancelled the parties and the banquet to which usually a lot of people attend.”
This year’s call for the national students, which is usually organized by the program offices and takes place in the morning, was arranged outdoors by KTH at the same place throughout the whole day. Some programs were not finished until late in the afternoon. In a similar manner, the reception organizers had to be creative in order to reduce the risk of infection:
“We try to have as many outdoor events as possible, for example, an increased number of city tours and hikes. Still, we have some events in Nymble but the number of spots compared to a typical Gasque is way less than it used to be. The kitchen shifts for the buddies are really strict in the sense that no one else is allowed to enter and once you have your face masks and gloves on you are the only one allowed to touch the food.” says Gokul, he continues:
“We have also made a tracking system where we record every single person that has been at an event. So when there’s a report of a symptom we can warn the others who were in contact with this person during the past few days by telling them to be careful, to check if they have any symptoms and to stay at home if possible.”
Johan tells more about scaling down and the importance of individual responsibility:
“The receptions that often keep the whole group together have split up into smaller groups. One reception I know basically runs a double reception: Every other day, the two groups take turns to do the activities. One of the most important things is reminding that each individual needs to keep distance. We have also tried to get the different receptions to think about exactly how walk between the different activities. Even if the students are separated into smaller groups, often the entire reception moves to roughly the same place and then you really have to think about not getting too close to each other and keeping your distance. I have for example seen a reception that has a rope to help them keep the distance and another one where they get paired two by two but with a sufficient distance between each person in the train.”
In the end, they both got to answer whether they think that this year's students will have a less fun reception than in the previous years:
“I think it depends on your expectations about the reception. If you expected it to be a huge party, well then maybe you will be disappointed. But if you do not have any prior conceptions, I think that with all the activities and solutions that our receptions have come up with, which can still comply with the restrictions, you can have just as much fun this year - if not more fun - because this year the creativity has flowed. No, I do not think they will have less fun, it is simply different." says Johan.
“Overall, It’s been going pretty smoothly and despite everything we have a functioning reception where the students can feel at home and get used to the life here. I think that’s all that matters.”