For many of us, the terrifying aspect of returning to campus is being surrounded by tons of strangers, which can sometimes make us tense up and go throughout our day while avoiding everything. Is someone giving out free goodies and snacks? I’d rather not. How about a drop-in event where you can socialize and make friends with others? Maybe some other time. If this describes you, I PROMISE you are NOT alone. What I described above applies to almost everyone.
For some individuals, these feelings boil down to the fact that the university experience can sometimes feel alienating and isolating. Every familiar face follows one hundred unfamiliar faces, and for most of us, it takes years to develop a solid network of friends. During some of my campus-wide interviews last semester, I asked students how they would respond to a stranger initiating a conversation with them in class. Unsurprisingly, the majority stated that they would be open to this idea. In fact, many students said they’d love to have this when entering a class for the first time, where a nearby classmate helps get the ball rolling and eases others into having a conversation. However, when I asked students if they would be open to being the conversation initiator, most said they would never do that. But, considering that we all want to make friends, why is it so hard to get the ball rolling? Well, one might feel this way for a million different reasons, from mental health concerns to an overall lack of interest, but for this blog post, I want to focus on the absolute basics. That is, learning how to initiate conversations with strangers on campus.
Let’s imagine for a second that you enter a class and arrive late. None of the good seats are left, and you can no longer hide in the back corner! So, you sit in the middle, sandwiched between two people. There are five minutes before class starts, and some people pull out their phones and scroll social media. Others are awkwardly waiting, fidgeting with their pen or shuffling through their notes. This is a great time to make friends if you’re in this position! So, what do you do next? Well, this goes back to getting the ball rolling. You might have a million thoughts circling your head along the lines of “Oh my goodness, what do I say? I don’t want to come off as weird or embarrass myself!”. As previously mentioned (and according to most students I interviewed), most students are open to a stranger striking up a friendly conversation! So go ahead and take your shot. It’s already established that you are in the same class, so why not start there?
“What are your thoughts on the homework assignment?”
“Do you enjoy this class? What do you think of the prof?”
“Hey, could you share the last class’s notes with me? I rushed my notes in the end, missing some details.”
At this point, you’re talking to the person beside you, which would be a good time to segway into a casual conversation before or after your class. Talk about your courses, what you’re majoring/minoring in, plans after graduating, or what you do for fun outside class. Talking about slightly more personal details like these further helps form a bond with the person you’re next to, and usually, at this point, the other person would be interested in getting your contact information.
So, you’ve gotten to know the person next to you, and you can safely say you have a friend in your class. Great job, you are now a certified befriender! And if you were successful with this guide, then I challenge you to repeat this every time you enter a class. Get to know the people who sit close to you and introduce your new friends to one another to develop a solid circle. And if you’re up for it, get to know your professors too! They’re also interested in getting to know students better, and lots of them would appreciate it if you came by and said hi! With your new friend circle (or even by yourself), attend some of our incredible events, join and make clubs, volunteer, and have fun outside class! There’s a whole world of things to do on campus, and every little event is one massive opportunity to meet new friends!
Remember, developing a solid network of friends takes time. But, with some commitment and practice, we can all do this to help each other out and feel less isolated on campus. Loneliness is one of the most significant predictors of depression and anxiety, so by all means, go and say hi to a stranger on campus today. You never know what will happen next!