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Long-distance relationships foster close friendships

Editor’s Note: This story was written when Fernanda Pedroza-Altamirano was a sophomore. She is now a senior.

Fernanda Pedroza-Altamirano visits the food science building almost every day to interact with her friends and professors. Sometimes she just visits with friends, and other times, she strikes up conversations with faculty in the department.

As a sophomore food science major, this may not sound very surprising, but for Pedroza-Altamirano, this is a big difference from how she spent her freshman year as a remote student in Bolivia.

Now that she is on campus, Pedroza-Altamirano has found ways to get involved and interact with her peers, but she may not have been so successful if it weren’t for the time she spent studying remotely.
Fernanda Pedroza-Altamirano with friends at a table Fernanda Pedroza-Altamirano (center) chats with fellow students around a table in the food science building. That may not sound much, but the sophomore food science major from Bolivia, says it is great to interact with others on campus after a freshman years spent online. Photo by Kari Slagel.

Like most Purdue freshmen, Pedroza-Altamirano expected to spend her first year in West Lafayette — when August 2020 rolled around, she was in Bolivia.

“It wasn’t what I expected at first,” she said. “I was really sad that I wasn’t going to campus, but I eventually accepted the fact that I wasn’t going.”

While Pedroza-Altamirano could have gone to campus, she decided to stay in Bolivia due to the challenges she would have encountered if she were to move countries during the peak of the pandemic. She completed her coursework remotely and worked to get involved and make the most of her college experience — even if that meant not being in-person.

“I tried my best to stay connected and meet a lot of people online to try to get involved in clubs,” Pedroza-Altamirano said. “I didn't want the fact that I was online to be a disadvantage or to be something negative. I saw it as an opportunity, as well.”

She joined student organizations that allowed her to talk about food science with fellow students and converse with others who were going through the online experience. She even entered a competition in which she was part of a team that gained skills in product development. While most of these interactions were through Zoom, she learned that even on-campus students were meeting this way.

She enjoyed interacting with others, she said, but being remote was not without its challenges. Pedroza-Altamirano explained she sometimes felt challenged when she tried understanding lectures without having easy access to professors to ask questions. So, she persevered and found resources to help her, including people in her department.

“My academic advisor at the time used to be really supportive whenever I asked her questions,” Pedroza-Altamirano said. “She used to answer right away and did as much as she could to help me.”

Pedroza-Altamirano appreciated the support and embraced it in making the most of her freshman year. She didn’t really mind being remote.

“Being online really gave me a lot of time for self-reflection and to think about what I wanted,” she said. “It helped me realize what I wanted out of me as a person — deeper insight of what I wanted to do in general like with life or my own goals.”

Pedroza-Altamirano also got the chance to continue her friendships in Bolivia during her remote year. She said this helped her keep her social skills, unlike some other students who felt they lost social skills during the pandemic.

“My communication skills didn't really improve or get worse,” she said.

Her continuous social interactions in Bolivia made her more receptive to making friends at Purdue, even remotely. She still maintains online friendships she cultivated during her freshman year.

“My closest friend group right now started with this girl I met online,” Pedroza-Altamirano said. “We were close online, and we had some classes in common. I knew that she was someone that I wanted to spend more time with when I got here on campus.”

And she did just that. One of the first things Pedroza-Altamirano did when she arrived on campus for the first time last fall was to find her online friends and meet in person. They have been expanding their circle of friends ever since.

“I’m really glad that I was able to go from online to in-person and keep the same friends during my transition,” she said. “I wanted to make a positive experience out of being online and that's what I did. I put in the effort to make it a positive experience.”

In the same way her friendships transitioned well from being online to being in person, so did her relationships with faculty and staff.

“I go to the food science building every other day, and I talk to the professors and the people who work there,” Pedroza-Altamirano said. “I get a lot of interaction and am constantly meeting new people.”

Pedroza-Altamirano’s involvement as a remote student and her involvement now that she is on campus translated to her current job at the Food Science Pilot Plant, a working food-processing facility that helps students learn and faculty investigate and improve food-processing technologies and techniques. She is confident her involvement will help when she interns with Cargill this summer in food safety and quality. Taking the steps to stay connected has made her in-person experience successful at Purdue, she said.

“I wanted to make my own space for me to feel comfortable here at Purdue, and I felt like I was doing that while I was online,” she said. “Now I feel the same way. I feel like I'm building something that I want and becoming a person that I like.”

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Kari Slagel earned her bachelor's degree in agricultural communication in 2022 from Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication

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