For many of you, it’s the start of a new school year! Hurray! Or…should I say, “Oh noes!”
University/college, in particular, is daunting. I was a first-year once, so I understand the experience completely. I went from a tiny, community-based high school of 500 students to a university of 50,000 crazy young adults.
Miraculously, I managed to interact socially in first year! And here’s how to do it, without looking like a goof. (Disclaimer: I am NOT a social expert and, for the most part, am a shy, awkward English student of few words. So proceed at your own risk.)
#1. Open your mouth and talk to other human beings.
You have to make the effort to talk first. Unless you’re America’s Next Top Model, don’t expect people to talk to you first.Say hi to the classmate next to you. Ask them where they are from, what year they are in, their faculty, etc.
In first year, you’ll find that people are actually really open to you talking to them. Sometimes even relieved. Everyone’s in a new place, everyone’s kinda scared, and everyone wants friends.
Think about it. If someone took the initiative to talk to you, wouldn’t you feel important? Flattered?
My goal in first year was to have one contact person in every class. Someone I could sit next to, discuss homework with, and contact in case I was absent.
One more thing: standoff-ish people aren’t necessarily standoff-ish. In fact, people who are bitch-faced at first can be super friendly…and the opposite exists as well!
#2. Join super random clubs.
Walking into university, I experimented with many clubs, but most were niche and had a core group of super-intimidating people that already knew each other. I ended up joined a club for foodies. I knew almost nothing about food except how to eat it, but this turned out to be the friendliest club I found. I felt very welcomed. This year, I found myself on the exec team as a writer/blogger.
Finding your niche will be an adventure full of unexpected surprises. Maybe you’ll find a new passion or interest! Join clubs. Heck, drag your (new-found?) friends with you if you have to.
#3. Not very social? Pretend you are.
I believe in the motto fake it ’til you make it. I’m naturally shy and it takes me a while to warm up to people. I don’t see this as an excuse, however. Instead, I spontaneously go to events alone to put myself out there and talk to other human beings. Yes, there are awkward silences. Yes, there are regrettable moments. Yes, alcohol is often involved. But I never regret stuff like this.
University is all about making connections. You don’t want to pass uni holed up in your room. The biggest step is the first step. Interested in that slam poetry meet-up but have no one to go with? Go anyway.
#4. Still embarrassed? Yeah…people don’t care/can’t tell/don’t give two shits.
Humans are such herd animals. We care way too much about what people think. Especially us shy people. We walk into a party thinking we stick out like a sore thumb and everyone’s judging us. Heads up: they’re not. In fact, people could care less how much of a fool you perceive yourself to be. Chances are, in a social situation, people are too wrapped up in how they look themselves to give you a second glance.
Newsflash: everyone’s judging themselves, not you. Everyone’s insecure, you’re not alone. So loosen up!
#5. Half of talking is listening.
The best thing you can do in a social situation is to participate. Smalltalk only goes so far. That’s why it’s important to listen and look for places you can jump in. Is the conversation steering towards funny travel stories? Why not chip in with your Peru llama story?
Feel left out because you have nothing to contribute? Listen politely, laugh at the appropriate times, or move on to another group. See that fellow in the corner sipping his wine and not talking to anybody? Maybe he has a cool story.
#6. Others first.
At the end of the day, you want people to like you. You want people to see you as a good person – someone who is approachable, friendly, kind. Do this by focussing more on the other person when you’re chatting them up. Ask them questions. Make them feel important. Ask them to elaborate on something they’re obviously passionate about.
People are narcissistic egomaniacs who can’t shut up about themselves. And if the person you’re chatting with has a reasonable EQ, they will ask about you in return. And the more you share (within reason), the more you’ll get in return!
#7. Meet tons of people. Have a core group of close friends.
Like a said, university is all about making connections. Networking. Finding academic coaches. Finding people with similar passions. Partying ’til sunrise. You’ll meet lots of people, shake lots of hands, and maybe even make out with a few different folks.
But friends and acquaintances are different. Personally, I prefer to only have a small group of people I really trust. I want to hang out and do fun things with many people, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, I don’t want the whole world to know. For me, a small group of close friends is more valuable than a crowd you know passably well.
So these are my tips. Mind you, this stuff is all fine’n’dandy in my brain but I still have trouble executing my words. Like the interacting with other humans part. Especially the interacting with other humans part.
Good luck, young whippersnappers, in your post-secondary adventures!