Skills and Hobbies You Can Pick Up Online to Stay Sane

Janet Gao
5 min readFeb 24, 2022

May 27, 2020

The combination of being stuck at home, not being able to see your friends, watching Legend of the Seeker on repeat, and taking virtual classes can really play tricks on your mental state. For UChicago students, far from feeling like a carefree summer break, this period of time can feel extremely tedious. Nevertheless, the quarantine can be a blessing in disguise. Apart from slowing the spread of the virus, it slows life down and grants us the gift of time. Here are seven skills and hobbies that you can pick up online in order to stay sane:

  1. Learn a language Learning a language opens a whole new world, and being able to communicate with someone in his or her language is an incredible gift. If you’re bored at home, take the opportunity during lockdown to learn to speak and write a new language. Even picking up a few phrases and using them on your parents can be amusing. For example, I learned from my roommate that “ndank ndank” means “slowly” in Wolof, which is a language most widely spoken in Senegal. This phrase is actually so deep and reflects an entire psyche of letting things follow their own progression and pace. This is especially relevant these days and a fitting reminder against the rushed productivity culture in general. Anyways, one useful free app is Duolingo. I’ve been using Duolingo to awaken my dormant Spanish skills and to maintain my Mandarin skills during the quarantine. If you are looking to learn Spanish, Señor Jordan has easy-to-follow lessons. Another useful app is Babbel. College students in the US have unlimited free access for the next three months. Babbel offers language lessons that you can curate to be relevant to your personal interests. Finally, Lingodeer is a fantastic choice for Asian languages like Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. Users have reported high satisfaction at understanding their favorite K-dramas. You can also practice the language online by starting conversations with friends who already speak the language you are trying to learn.

2) Games:

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  • The classic Settlers of Catan, online
  • Dominion — A deck-building card game, I like to play this whenever I feel like losing
  • League of Legends — An addicting online multiplayer strategic battle game, free to download (Kog Maw, let’s GO?)
  • Type Racer — You may still get nightmares from Type2Learn keyboarding classes in elementary school, but Type Racer is a surprisingly fun short competition. Race your friends and see who has the fastest typing speed!
  • Town of Salem — Town of Salem is essentially the online version of the classic deception party games Mafia and Werewolf
  • Skribbl A multiplayer online drawing and guessing game, akin to DrawMyThing
  • Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Uncharted used to be one of my favorite video game series of all time (mainly the multiplayer). As part of Playstation’s Play at Home initiative, you can download Uncharted (as well as Journey) for free from now through May 5, 2020. Join Nathan Drake and other iconic characters on some thrilling action adventures.

3) Jazzercise! — If jazzercise brings joy to the Grinch’s life and has a dedicated place in his schedule, it should for you as well. Working out at home can be such a drag. Maybe all that your workouts need these days is some flair. This fitness challenge is a fun, high-energy blast from the past.

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4) Trivia — Trivia is an exciting pasttime. After that leisurely jazzercise workout, it’s time to take your brain to the gym (which complies with lockdown regulations). Here are several ideas to sharpen your skills and place you on the road towards MVP status for your trivia nights at the Pub when this is all over:

  • Read about subjects you are curious about, whether that is U.S. presidents, Best Picture winners, or Olympians. Start at “Toronto” and somehow fall through the Wikipedia wormhole to end up at “Pliny the Elder.” Absorb information about the New Deal through song parodies. Go through old quizzes at Sporcle.
  • Keep up with the news and pop culture! Even if you only spend a few minutes every day reading world news, you’re going to pick up on world leaders, geography, and important events simply because you see them over and over again. Bit of News is an easily digestible daily newsletter that summarizes the most important news of the day.
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5) Origami — Origami is the art of paper-folding, its name deriving from Japanese words ori (“folding”) and kami (“paper”). My first foray into origami was in second grade after reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. There is a Japanese legend that says that if a sick person folds 1,000 paper cranes, then that person would soon get well. Hospitalized with leukemia, Sadako spent long hours in bed folding paper cranes and never losing hope. The story and the art of paper folding is fascinating, and you can learn to fold anything from a crane to a star to reindeer. Jo Nakashima’s Youtube channel and this blog are good resources to learn.

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6) Reading — For me, there’s no such thing as reading too much. Reading literature is one of the great joys of life and does wonders for restoring my mental state. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to find entire libraries of books online. Whenever I feel depressed or just exhausted with life, reading becomes my escape. A couple of recommendations:

  • The Strong Shall Live, Louis L’Amour — In a collection of short stories, Louis L’Amour tells of the true heroes of the frontier, the survivors for whom remaining tough was as natural as drawing breath
  • Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie — An enigmatic, drawn-out story that deals with India’s transition from British colonialism to independence
  • Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov — A 999-line poem from murdered poet John Shade, followed by an unreliable commentary (and earlier intro) from his stalker Charles Kimbote

These are tough times, but hopefully some of these suggestions help. See you on the other side!