It’s taken me a few days longer to get around to my university-focused blog series than I intended: I had a few things going on, including a trip to Cambridge to get professionally poisoned (aka allergy tested). It turns out I’m allergic to cats, which is… a surprise, and not a particularly welcome one. Sigh. I guess my future will have to involve a vast flock of guinea pigs instead.
In the comments on my last post, a reader called Ella asked me to talk about making friends at uni when you’re a “total introvert”. This is something I can relate to: not only am I an introvert, but I also don’t drink, and anxiety makes clubbing sound like my personal hell on earth, so many of the traditional uni bonding activities are effectively off-limits. That said, I wouldn’t say I’m amazing at making friends and I tend to do so by accident, but I’ll try and give some tips anyway.
Firstly, though, I’ll say this: making friends does require you to talk to people. Which if you’re introverted and anxious can be the biggest barrier. But the great thing about uni is that everyone else is trying to make friends as well. They want you to talk to them, because they don’t know anyone either. People will jump at the chance to make new friends, which makes it a lot easier to do so.
Tip #1: There’s a script, but you don’t have to stick to it
During my first week at Cambridge I got asked so many times for my name, college, and subject that it began to be my default response. “I’m Miriam, I’m an ASNaC at Newnham, you?” Which was fine, because it works well as a conversation starter and at least you get the basic information about the other person, but it gets pretty boring after a while. I have a feeling I made one of my friends by sharing a series of bad Classics jokes from Tumblr because I felt like they’d appreciate them. It worked, but for the life of me I can’t remember how the conversation started.
If talking to new people makes you anxious enough to forget everything about yourself ever, it might be worth thinking of a few topics in advance. Don’t plan out entire conversations or practice your answers, but if there’s a TV show you watched recently that you really like, that might be a good way to start a conversation. If the other person hasn’t watched it, it might be a very brief conversation, but maybe if they’re up for it you could show them an episode or two. Ta da, you’re bonding!
Tip #2: Have something to offer
I have a bit of an inferiority complex and I always wonder why people want to be friends with me when there are so many more interesting people to be friends with. If you feel the same way, it can help to make sure you have something concrete to offer. (If nothing else, it tricks your brain into shutting up about how worthless you are as a friend, because you can prove it wrong.) What do you have in your favour? Will you give people food? (See #3.) Do you have access to a Netflix account or Amazon Prime?
(They don’t have to be yours…) A TV license is a rarity at uni, so if you’ve got one, that’s definitely an asset. Or how about games like Cards Against Humanity? That often goes down well, so if you’ve got it, bring it. Otherwise, just make your room a welcoming space. Maybe you have nothing to offer but six different types of tea. That still makes you a better friend than the person who only has one type.
Bribe people to be your friend, basically. It works. Again, see #3.
Tip #3: Bribe them with food
When I started uni I took with me a large box of smartie cookies that I’d made. My plan had been to prop my door open and offer them to anyone who called in, but then my room was all on its own so that didn’t work. My alternative idea had been to sit in the kitchen and offer them to anyone who called past, but that didn’t work either, because our kitchen was tiny with nowhere to sit. Instead, every time I got into a conversation with someone, I’d say, “Do you want to come and see my room? I’ve got homemade cookies.” I must’ve lured half a dozen people there with this method.
(I’m pretty sure I made one of my current friends just by giving her food throughout first year.)
I started carrying them around with me. I gave one to my Director of Studies in our first meeting because I thought she disliked me and I figured it couldn’t hurt. I gave one to the maintenance guy who fixed the lock on my door. I’d overcatered and it took a fair while before all the cookies were gone, but it definitely helped make a good impression on the people who did visit my room. (Which wasn’t many, because it was so far from everywhere else.)
It’s a lot harder for me to follow this piece of advice now given that any food I have has to be gluten free, and is therefore less appealing to the average visitor, but in second year I made two batches of gluten-free flapjacks (one with butter, one that was vegan) and gave those to everybody who called by, and I think that worked pretty well too.
Tip #4: Don’t expect to make your best friends during Freshers’ Week.
I mean, at Cambridge we only have three days of Freshers’ Week, which really isn’t enough to meet anyone, but even if you’re at the kind of uni that doesn’t throw you in at the deep end immediately, it takes time to form profound connections. Maybe you’ll hit it off with someone right away and you’ll end up spending the next three years of your life hanging out constantly. It’s much more likely that you’ll make a bunch of acquaintances, but as term goes on you’ll drift apart and find new friends and groups to spend time with, and although you won’t necessarily stop seeing each other, you’ll probably not consider yourselves best friends. That’s okay.
This means you shouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to make friends immediately. Obviously, introduce yourself to people if you can, especially people living near you, but don’t treat every new encounter as an intreview for your Best Friend Forever.
I did actually meet a couple of my closest friends during Freshers’ Week, but I didn’t know that at the time, and it took a while for us to become close.
Tip #5: Try and go to something, even if you’re not sure about it
I’m not saying you have to go clubbing if you don’t want to. I certainly didn’t. You don’t have to sign up to fifty societies or attend a dozen meetings. However, if there are Freshers’ Week events organised — particularly if they’re quieter, non-drinking events that allow for more conversation — it’s worth trying to go to at least one or two. I met one of those close friends I mentioned at a craft night that was organised within my college. It was great, actually: quiet enough to let you chat, busy enough to meet people. The following year I volunteered to run the same event for incoming freshers, and we made door signs with our names on them to help personalise our rooms. It was great, because when you’ve stared at someone outlining their name in glitter glue for an hour, you tend to remember what their name was.
Not everywhere’s going to have a craft night with glitter glue and crayons (we believe in letting people regress, here at Newnham…), especially universities where events are organised on a larger scale rather than within smaller colleges. But it’s worth seeking out events that will give you an excuse to sit next to someone and talk to them.
Tip #6: Talk to people living near you
I… didn’t do this when I started uni. I’d intended to, but it didn’t happen, mostly because nobody lived near me. My room in first year was isolated: through a set of double doors, with nothing else there except a staircase and a bathroom. The kitchen was small and people didn’t tend to socialise there, and as a result, I got to the end of the year without ever finding out the name of the girl who lived next door to me. Which made my isolated room feel even lonelier.
So if you can possibly bring yourself to knock on doors, or prop yours open so that people can call by, I’d really recommend it. If you’ve got a shared kitchen (or a living room or something, though I don’t know anyone who has that in student accommodation), maybe try and spend some time there in the first couple of weeks, even if you’re just reading at the kitchen table. When people pop in to get food or whatever, introduce yourself.
Tip #7: Join a society (or several!)
This is the most obvious one, in some ways, but if you’re in a large subject or not living in uni accommodation, it’ll be the best way to make friends. You might want to stick with something you’re familiar with, or go for something totally new. I find performing arts are a pretty good way to bond — nothing makes friends like rehearsing together, to be honest — but obviously, that’s not for everyone. Whether it’s sports or Tolkien appreciation, there’s probably a society out there for you, and most of them have regular meetings / rehearsals / practices where you can get to know people. Plus, they often give you free food at the beginning of the year, so that’ll help you put off your first supermarket trip just a little bit longer.
Those are my tips for making friends at uni. They’re not universal and if your tastes lean more towards clubbing and predrinks, I can’t help you because that’s a whole other world that I know nothing about. But hopefully, they’ll be useful to someone.
tl;dr: bribe them with Netflix and cake
This is part of an ongoing series of posts about university life, primarily aimed at those about to start for the first time, so if there’s anything in particular you’d like me to talk about, let me know in the comments!