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2020 Student Event of the Year Award

When the COVID-19 pandemic saw students move to online study, Yeganeh Soltanpour from Iran knew it would be hard for international students. She knew they’d miss the support, social interaction and focus she got from studying in the university library.

To overcome this problem, she created The Virtual Library, a weekly virtual study session under the banner of her not-for-profit, the Organised Collective which provides resume templates and employability advice to students. The Virtual Library is an example of how one person can make a difference to many, especially in a time of shared hardship.

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Winner: The Virtual Library, by the Organised Collective

Organiser: Yeganeh Soltanpour from Iran, studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science at The University of Adelaide

How did The Virtual Library come about?

A library is an important place for international students. It’s a place to meet your friends in a large area away from the confines of your small desk. Having that taken away so suddenly because of the lockdown impacted me. I found it difficult to focus because I don’t usually study at my house. I want to be able to see other students and talk with people when I take a break to stretch my legs. That’s why I came up with the idea for a virtual library. I wanted students to not only interact with one another and meet people from university online but also to use this time for peaceful and meaningful study. I trialled with some friends to see if it would work. It turned out pretty well, so I decided to create a weekly event.

How did it work?

I set up a weekly Zoom call and promoted The Virtual Library on social media, inviting students from all over the university to come along. I made it a Pomodoro session which is a useful study technique where you study for 25 minutes, and then you have a 5-minute break. Using the Pomodoro method gave students more of a purpose, and they were able to get work done and leave the event feeling they’d accomplished something. People were free to come and go during the session, and I used a bell to let everyone know when it was time to take a break or start studying again.

How did The Virtual Library help students?

It made us feel less lonely. For someone like me, having that interaction with friends and meeting new people and forming new friendships is important. People started using it to ‘meet’ their friends, and they started coming in groups rather than just one by one, which was really good. And some people who were in the same courses found new study buddies and formed smaller study groups outside of The Virtual Library.

How did The Virtual Library end, and how do you feel about it now?

As restrictions eased, people started going back to the university library. Even when numbers dwindled, I kept going for the few students that still showed up because I didn’t want to let them down. I knew how much this event was helping them. The event ran for 12 weeks, and eventually ended when we all went back to campus. At first, I did miss that feeling of having something to look forward to every Wednesday, but that was quickly resolved when I was able to study in an actual library with some of the people I met in The Virtual Library.

Caring for others is important to you. Where does your desire to care come from? 

I’m an only child, so in my family, I became the person everyone went to. That’s why I wanted to study psychology in the first place. Family is very important to me, and one of the hardest things I had to do was to leave my family back home. I went from caring for my parents and my family members, so when I came here, I wanted to care for students or people who were in the same position that I was.

What’s next for you, and how will your time in Adelaide help you take your next steps?

I’ve applied to do an Honours year, and I hope to study for my masters here because I’m involved with a large research project with one of my professors. I feel like Adelaide is a city made for students. Everything is peaceful and mellow, and it doesn’t overwhelm you. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to feel as calm as I do. Adelaide facilitates an easy learning environment for me.

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