Amid pandemic's isolation, French students turn to each other for support

www.csmonitor.com
7 min read
fairly difficult
The pandemic has cut off French university students from classes and jobs, forcing them to find ways to deal with isolation and financial shortfalls.
Aid groups are also trying to reduce the stigma about asking for financial help. Anti-food-waste program Linkee sets up distribution stations close to college campuses five days a week, providing an estimated 25,000 meals per week to college students in need.

"College students were already a vulnerable population before the pandemic, and their particular anxieties and difficulties will exist after the pandemic is over," says Florian Tirana, a student and president of the nonprofit listening service Nightline France. "Our overall goal is to remove the taboo surrounding mental health, and offer the right information so this topic becomes normalized."

One consequence has been the social and academic isolation of online learning. Many college students have also lost part-time jobs and are struggling to pay rent, leading to a newfound financial uncertainty. Others have moved home or dropped out of school. A cluster of recent suicide attempts has highlighted the urgent need for more mental health and financial support for students.

Since France's first pandemic lockdown nearly one year ago, university campuses have been shuttered and students have been limited to full-time online learning. Unlike other schools here, where in-person teaching opened up this past fall, university students have been left behind.

It's a Wednesday night, just after sunset. On a remote street hidden from view, hundreds of college students stand in a line that snakes around the block, waiting to collect bags of donated food. Volunteers meander through the crowd offering hot tea, as a jazz band from the Paris Conservatory of Music plays to boost morale.

Myriam and Deborah, friends from Marseille, have been waiting in below-freezing temperatures for a half-hour with another half-hour to go, but they say it's worth it. "I moved to Paris for school and had all these initial expenses, and then it was impossible to find a part-time job because of the pandemic," says Myriam, a first-year law…
Colette Davidson
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