So, a new academic year is approaching now. For the new intake of freshers, there seems to be so many things to consider. So where’s the best place to start? Perhaps the best place to start is with EVERYBODY ELSE. After all, the first moment you arrive, you’re part of a whole new social world.
Because of that, this may feel quite daunting, especially having to do it on your own. But there’s potential for all that worry to disappear in an instant. Let’s consider this basic – and cliched – fact:
– Everyone is in the same boat as you.
It really won’t just be you looking for company when you first arrive at uni. The same can be said for pretty much each and every person. The whole point of your first week or two is to settle in before the actual degree work comes into play. University is as much about your social experience as it is about your academic achievements. Sometimes more.
To get you in the mood, consider the following tips to help ready you for making new friends in an unfamiliar place:
1. Facebook your way to the front of the queue. Make yourself known. In the run up to university, Facebook is becoming a great place to go to announce yourself on Fresher Groups, Halls of Residence lists, and university specific groups. Already, there are lots of people asking questions like “Is anyone else doing French History and Engineering?” and “Is anyone else living in Flat 12/C Block/Freddie Hall?” They might not be the most challenging of questions, but it helps people to make sense of things. The fear of the unknown becomes a little less scary if other people are worrying about the very same things. Oh, and I don’t think there’s a degree on French History and Engineering… feel free to tell me otherwise!
Go one better if you like. If there isn’t already one, you could create a Facebook Group for your halls of residence or your course. Be pro-active before you arrive and you could reap the benefits.
2. Be prepared to say ‘hello’ to strangers. You’re all going to be strangers at first. Someone has to make the first move, otherwise you risk missing out on exactly what you want. So there’s no harm in saying ‘hi’ and getting the ball rolling. None of you know anyone else, so you’re all working from the same clean sheet. No preconceptions and no worries. Then be prepared to answer the same questions a lot (like “What are you studying?” and “Where are you from?” and so on). If you get a bit more daring, think of some different questions to keep things going. Go with broad entertainment subjects like music, TV and film. Even if you don’t share the same tastes, at least you’re finding stuff out. It’s unlikely someone is just going to say, “I don’t like music. None of it. Music’s rubbish.”
3. Look to the positives, not the negatives. It’s easy to look at the difficulties in making friends, but we always tend to let our minds take over with worry. In reality, if you’re starting with nothing in the first place, there’s a lot of benefit in taking a positive step and making yourself known. Always remember the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s unlikely to be that bad.
If you want an example, an interview with Paul McKenna in today’s Times says it all:
“Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. I know. Procrastinators aren’t lazy. They’re scared.” He tells me about a guy he used to envy. “He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he dated more girls than anyone else. I studied him for a while and I figured out that because he was thick-skinned, he asked more girls out than anyone else. And I thought if I up the number of girls I ask out, the down side is that I might be told to F-off more, but the upside is that I might meet the person of my dreams.”
4. Bring along ice-breaking tools, such as a pack of cards, a simple/saucy/silly board game, a TV (remember you might need a license) or some DVDs. That way, you can get to know your housemates better, even if none of you want to venture outside in the first couple of nights.
5. You don’t necessarily make your best friends in the first few days, or even weeks. When I started university, there weren’t that many people around (entry into halls was staggered over four or five days and I was part of the second day’s intake). Some of us decided to simply chat with each other and have a laugh. By the end of the evening, I was sitting around with about 10 people that were very friendly, but who I didn’t feel were going to be brilliant bestest buddies. I was quite worried that first night, imagining that I might not fit in if that’s what everybody was going to be like. But there was no need for worry, because the next day (and subsequent days that week), I found more and more people to get to know. I didn’t meet my very best university friends until a few weeks later. Give it time and try to simply enjoy those around you as best as you can.
6. Don’t lock yourself in your room. Get out there and see what you can find. Even if all you do is walk about the campus, you’ll be surprised at the amount of possible interaction available. Other students may even approach you first, eliminating any initial worries anyway. And if you walk around when other people are unpacking, you could even offer assistance if the situation feels right (and if you genuinely ARE happy to help!).
7. Make the most of the entertainments, societies, and Fresher events. GET INVOLVED! There will be loads going on, no matter how big or small your university is. And even if 9 out of 10 things sound dreadful, make sure you do that one thing on the list that sounds fun. You’re bound to meet like-minded people, which is always a good starter for ten.
8. Listen. It’s a simple tip, but it’s amazing how often we forget to do this. A couple of interested questions can go a long way to opening things up. People like to talk about themselves. And if you listen intently and form an involvement, hopefully the other person will feel a lot more at ease. Above all, try to remember names. There will be a lot of different people around, so learning their names may be difficult, but it’ll benefit you in the long run.
9. Reply. Show you’ve been listening. It’s always a good way to get people feeling happy about a situation. Maybe they’ll even let you talk about yourself too if you’re lucky!
10. Try using everyone’s easy ice-breaker: bring lots of alcohol along and offer it to fellow students. It’s a tried and tested method in universities all over the country and you can’t get away from the fact that most Freshers are going to be extremely grateful for a freebie. Just don’t overdo it (the drinking, or the giving away). And remember to pack a bottle opener!