I have social anxiety and I generally have trouble keeping up with my friends (I’ve known them since primary school). Advice on how to make new friends would be great, as I will be starting university in September. I’m hoping that I will be able to connect with the people there, it’s going to be my first time studying abroad and being a part of a minority group.
When I first read your question, I had to squash each and every instinct to reach into the back pocket advice booklet handed to us by family and friends on learning we’re about to head off into the big wide world: join a club, talk to strangers and soon enough it’ll feel like home. But, simple as it is to say these things, when you’ve been and done it, walking to the precipice of adulthood and staring down at the pit of decisions you have to make can be incredibly daunting.
These pieces of general advice come from those who have filled up this cavern with experience and met those that have helped them to build a bridge across all of the terrifying mundanity of being an adult. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be standing at that edge with no idea how to even start crossing.
You’re already taking a brave step forward in life by leaving home and forging ahead on your own path. I hope you’re studying something you love or working towards a goal that’ll bring you happiness later down the line because university has a lot to do with the course. If you’ve found something you’re passionate about then there will almost certainly be potential friends for you there, sharing interests you don’t even think to talk about with most people.
And, I don’t say this lightly, there will be clubs that can be a great starter for talking to people, even if they don’t become lifelong friends, it's fantastic practice at how to meet someone completely unknown to you and start chatting. University is a melting pot of interests and clubs can filter a huge population of students down to those you have something in common with which is a blessing that is there to be used.
Even in all the excitement of new people and a fresh start, it can help to look back just a little at all those friends who have helped you get to where you are. There’s a special bond forged when you’ve known someone since you were both learning to walk and this comes with a wholly different dynamic to the friends you meet later in life.
University can feel a lot like taking your first steps and occasionally, there’ll be people that you feel as though you’ve known since you were small because they reflect a similar knowledge to your primary school friends: both have seen you as you stumbled and fought to gain a hold in the world, and both have seen you win against all the odds. Cherish these kinds of people, but never let them hold you back from changing and growing, continually finding something new in yourself.
The most important pieces of advice I can give you are to stay true to yourself and try all that you can to be brave. It’s such a cliché but incredibly true that everyone in that lecture hall with you on the first day of the year is just as keen to make friends, even if they seem like they’ve got it all figured out. People are inevitably just that: people and we all get lonely and scared and want to be liked.
This is where it’s important that you hold yourself, who you are or want to be, strong against the barrage of experience that’s waiting for you. You’re already braver than you think by moving abroad and preparing to experience a new culture alongside the usual trials of student life, so I have no doubt you are more than capable of making some incredible memories.
September is just the start of a long and winding road, and I would recommend not buying too much into the ‘freshers' hype’. You’ve got years' worth of days waiting for you and somewhere in there, you’ll meet some amazing people.
It might not happen in the first week, though housemates tend to foster a level of bonding due to you all being planted in the same city/country away from home and some people find their closest friends this way, or even the first few months, but they are out there. Finding your people where maybe you haven’t already is one of the highlights of university, and meeting classmates and housemates that will support you through the highs and lows is what can help get you through the rougher patches of burgeoning adulthood.
The process of making friends isn’t a straight path and the best ones tend to jump out at you when you least expect it. But the glorious thing about university is that the community of classes and accommodation means that you’ll find yourself connected to more people than you know.
Your people might just be friends with a randomly assigned housemate or the girl you barely talked to on your first day at your new flat. University is a chance to reinvent yourself if you want to, to take risks that friends from home would never have thought you capable of, and this state of flux means your friends will change too.
So, I might just have to agree with those well-intended aunts and uncles: join a club, talk to strangers and maybe, just maybe, soon enough it’ll feel like home.
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