If you are on the brink of heading off to college this month, or even starting a new boarding or high school, you may have been sent this recent article in the New York Times, The Real Skinny on Freshman Year. Conventional wisdom at its best – a definite read as you embark on a new adventure surrounded by strangers and boundless options.
What the piece didn’t break down was how and when you make friends. When starting a new school, this is perhaps the most anxiety-producing, keep-you-awake-at-night dilemma as you envision your new life unfolding. The truth is, the friends you make off the bat when starting a new school may not be the friends you end up keeping in touch with 10 years (or even 10 weeks) down the line – but they are important to settling in, feeling happy, and meeting those friends that will click for life. Maybe you’ll get lucky and your roommate or lab partner truly will your maid of honor someday. If not, here are 5 solid, quick tips (and their flip sides) to finding fast friends as you step foot onto a new social scene.
1. Practice this Mantra: “We’re All In The Same Boat.” Particularly as a new freshman, never forget that every single other freshman is as new, scared and eager to make a friend as you are. ‘Move in Day’ is the great equalizer – it pits the tuba players with the cheerleaders – and everyone can bond over embarrassing name tags, lingering parents helping to unpack, and lackluster dining hall food. It will truly be exhausting how many times you ask (and answer) “where are you from?” “what dorm are you living in?” “what’s your major?” and “what time is the welcome BBQ?”
Flip side: If you’re not a freshman and you truly are the lone wolf transferring as a sophomore or junior, it will be slightly more tough. Your mantra should be “Compliment Everyone.” Being nice (big shocker) actually works when trying to make friends. Complaining rarely does. Ask questions, listen to people, learn names and tell them they look great, smell great, have great shoes, or make really great looking sandwiches in the dining hall.
2. Gravitate to Your “Peer Leaders.” Typically, when starting a new school, existing student leaders or RA’s (resident advisors) are stationed all over to help you move in, find your way around, or to make sure you aren’t hiding in a shower stall. These students almost always come across as cool and friendly; and that’s because they are. These student leaders were chosen for their position because they are likable, confident, and truly want to help you settle into the community. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they won’t like you, are too “old” to like you, or that you will “annoy” them by chatting and asking questions. Chances are they will be able to give you the real skinny on what the campus is like, what events to attend, and even become your “real” friend.
Flip Side: Don’t hound your peer leaders! They will be pretty busy trying to help lots of new students find their way in the first couple of days, so chat with them occasionally and don’t hesitate to ask questions. But definitely focus on the students in your own year first.
3. Attend Everything. Your first (or second or third) night you may feel like crawling into a little ball on your devastatingly small twin bed and looking at pictures of your dog/boyfriend/mom while listening to Sam Smith on repeat. Take 15 minutes to breathe, reflect, and shed a tear if you need to – it’s hard starting over. But staying in your room will actually make you feel worse. Push yourself to attend the freshman magic show or community cook-out. You really won’t regret going; you’ll feel better instantly. Fact.
Flip Side: Not everything will be fun. But there will likely always be free food and a friendly face. *Note: If there is no free food, this may be one instance where it’s ok to complain in order to make friends.
4. Put Yourself Out There (Physically. Be Seen.) Are you a guitar player? Set up shop on the stoop of your dorm or even in the laundry room and play your favorite Taylor Swift acoustic remix (singing optional). Martial Artist? Pop out a couple of back flips or even just stretch in the quad. Others will gravitate toward you and find an opportunity to ask you more about your hobbies.
Flip Side: Don’t show off. Let your hobbies seep out organically; don’t charge admission to the ‘Me Show,’ and don’t make it all about you. Ask others if they want to join in or if they’d like to learn. Put yourself out there so you can attract friends, but reel them in by asking questions and actively listening to their stories.
5. Be Open Minded. Don’t be so afraid of making new friends that you shut out the people who are actually trying to befriend you. Often, very shy people come across as being aloof or stuck-up, which is an unfortunate by-product of anxiety. Starting a new school is the perfect place to let go of all the old stereotypes you hung on to and getting to know people from all different backgrounds, so don’t rule out a friendship just because you can’t immediately relate to someone in converse sneakers or an eyebrow ring. This is your chance to evolve; take it.
Flip Side: There is none. Just keep in mind that some of your new friendships won’t stand the test of time, and that’s ok. Sometimes we enter into each other’s lives just to get through a tough time or a life transition, and that’s perfectly ok. Just don’t do a big dramatic “break up.” Friends drift and sometimes even come back. Keep it light, let nature take its course, and always be kind.
How did you make fast friends in a new environment (and did those friendships last?) Share your thoughts in comments section.
Look out for Part II Next Week: Building Lasting Friendships In 5 Steps or Less.