When I first got to university, I didn’t know what to expect from the people I’d be living with.
Sounds familiar, right?
No matter how much work you do online to get to know your new housemates, the reality of meeting them for the first time is a big hit for the senses.
Here’s the good news: Moving in with strangers isn’t as hard as you’d think.
The randomness may be scary, but it’s the same for everyone. At least you know you’re not on your own about being on your own.
How do you make new friends and get to grips with your new housemates?
I’ve asked a couple of students’ union officers who have been through these situations and know what it’s like. You’ll find some tips from me here too.
If you’re not sure how to play it, you’ve come to the right place! Your experience will be unique. And with a bit of calm preparation and a positive attitude, most of that experience should be fun.
As you’ll see, there are two very different experiences here.
Beth Moody, VP Welfare and Community at Portsmouth Students’ Union (UPSU), lived in a house on her own when she first moved to university:
“I loved my house, and being quite a shy individual when I moved to University, I couldn’t think of anything worse than potentially arguing over chicken nuggets or dirty dishes. I bought a Freshers pack, but it meant that I had to turn up to these events not having met anyone.
“That night I met loads of different people, and I ended up being invited to loads of house parties for the remainder of Freshers. Although I didn’t talk to them again after Freshers; it gave me the confidence to approach different people.”
Just because Beth didn’t move in with others, she was still able to go out and make an impact. It doesn’t matter if you live on your own or in a flat with 50 people, it’s important to approach others. Nerves are normal and everyone is new.
The big issue I always see is when someone shuts everything off and doesn’t interact with others. Sometimes they want to engage, but are scared to (more on that in a moment). Sometimes they don’t think the social side of student life is important.
If anything, the social side can have even more impact than the academic. Why? Because you know roughly where the academic side of things is headed. The whole point of activities and relationships outside of the degree is that you’re exploring new things and new people.
I like how Beth avoided the arguments over kitchen duties and who nabbed the food, but didn’t let living alone get in the way of making new friends and having a great time right from the start.
Many freshers move in with others, however. And that’s what happened to Liam Bligh, President of Northampton Students’ Union:
Liam Bligh – President of Northampton SU 2016/17
“I lived in Margaret Bondfield halls in my first year, having only known the name of one of my flatmates through the Facebook group. After the 4 hour drive up from Devon and waiting for registration I was exhausted.
“Luckily for me, my parents went straight into the kitchen and introduced themselves to my future flatmates whilst giving out bits of the 3 cakes mum had insisted I brought to ‘help make friends’.
“After attempting to unpack some things and failing I went into the kitchen to then have my parents go around the room and introduce me to my flatmates one by one as if they had known them their entire lives…you can always count on your parents to make it weird.”
Okay, so I’ve long said that dishing out cake and doughnuts will make you popular. Then again, I assume you’ll be doing the dishing out and not your parents…
Anyway, back to Liam:
“Thankfully my parents eventually left and I was able to meet my flatmates properly, we spent the rest of the day chatting about stuff and eventually made our way to the SU for the welcome party, met so many people there, including one guy who I ended up living with for the 2 years after I moved out of halls!”
Liam was lucky to find such a close friend so quickly. Don’t be surprised if it takes you weeks, even months, before you find friends who you end up spending huge amounts of time with. That’s pretty standard.
Some people move out of halls and into a house with the same people they shared the place with. But many others group together with the friends they’ve made elsewhere.
For example, I was well into the first semester before I met the people I ended up living with in my second year. No stress, no rush.
Say Hi, With or Without Nerves
But what’s the secret to making friends?
Actually, it’s not that difficult. Here’s Beth again:
“During Freshers, everyone is in the same boat, no one really knows anyone; so if you are feeling nervous, they probably are too!”
Yep. When you’re all starting fresh, nobody is expecting anything in particular.
Remember that most people are worrying about how they’ll come across. They won’t be thinking about your faults and failings; they’ll mainly be thinking about their own issues.
While everyone is second-guessing themselves, why not take the plunge and say hello to people. No need to judge, and every need to be as welcoming as possible. If you don’t know what to talk about, ask questions and listen to others instead. People will feel relieved that you’re interested in them and you’ll feel relieved that people are so easy to talk to.
Liam has a similar view:
“I would just say it’s really important to try to meet as many people as possible in the first few weeks; you don’t have to get everyone’s numbers (I know loads of people that did this, kind of weird). I’d also say to use the Students Unions sports, societies and volunteering groups to find people with similar interests; I’ve lived with members of the cricket club in both of my 2nd and 3rd year after getting involved, so it definitely is a good way to meet people!”
One of the great things about clubs and societies is that you already have a common interest with the other members. Whether it’s cricket, quiddich, or computers, you’ve got one core subject even when you don’t know what else to talk about.
And once you get chatting, the other subjects come along soon enough.
Summing It Up
Here are the main points to remember for making new friends:
- Everyone is new – Being on your own means you’re not on your own. Since the Fresher experience is new for practically all students, there are no big expectations of you.
- It’s good to talk – In other words, don’t be shy. Social gatherings may not be your thing, but all you need is the word “hello” and you’re ready to strike up a conversation. On the other hand, if you’d do better in a crowd, go out to the events and say hi to people that way. Whichever way, get talking.
- It’s better to be interested – Ask questions and find out what makes other people tick. That way, you don’t need to talk about yourself so much, and people will still enjoy your company because you let them talk about themselves. Us humans are so easy to please!
- Be social – Don’t stay in your room. Venture out. And at the very least, have an open door so people can see you’re available. You never know, someone who pops their head around the door to say hi may end up being a great friend over the coming years.
- Be generous – Offering food to others is great. From sweet treats to making main meals, you’ll be amazed at how thankful others are at your generosity. I’ve long said that a box of doughnuts is cheaper than a big round of drinks, yet it’s more memorable. Imagine if you bought a case of Krispy Kremes once in a while. I wouldn’t call it a bribe for friends (unless that’s literally all you do!), but it is a tasty ice-breaker that people will remember you for.
- Find activities – University activities, SU clubs and societies, local groups, and all sorts of other parties and events are brilliant for making new friends.
- Go online – Use your phone or laptop to keep an eye on events. Your SU probably has details on their website. Then there’s Facebook groups, regional sites, and other activities on offer through the university intranet and email lists.
- Relax with the relationships – None of this should stress you out. It can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be scary. Nerves aren’t the same as having a panic attack. Take the plunge and expect a range of experiences. You won’t hit it off with everyone, but who does? Even the most charismatic and social of people aren’t universally popular.
And if you need any more tips than that, here’s some previous TUB posts with the lowdown:
Living Together Through the Years
Living With Others: Be the Genuine Article
20 Hints for Living With Others
And get ready for my new audio show coming soon. TUB-Thump will feature even more short, sharp tips on making the most of your time at university…including tips on living with others and having a happy student home.