Could use a confidence booster.
August 25, 2009 9:43 AM   Subscribe

It's my first week in a college dorm. I feel alienated and out of place. Please help me adjust -- advice or encouraging stories appreciated.

After 2 years of community college I've finally started *real* college. I'm now living in an on-campus apartment, meaning it's not a traditional "dorm" setting where you can just walk into anybody's door, anytime. There's less of a social environment, and I don't feel comfortable breaking out of the bubble of my suitemates. But it's 1:30am right now and literally all four of them are out at frat parties and etc. I feel like the ugly duckling. There was a dance earlier that I checked out for a while and then shirked out of because I simply have no idea what to do and felt extremely uncomfortable.

I'm not antisocial, but I'm not particularly confident either. I'm great in one-on-one situations, but extremely uncomfortable in large groups. I've even approached some of the apartments on my floor, but haven't made any good connections. Now my paranoid side is kicking in and I feel like I may have come off too strong/too shy/too whatever. My confidence is quickly plummetting :(, but I want to expand past my network of community college friends.

Please help. Is this natural at first? What are some good approaches? How can I feel more comfortable in this setting?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
i'm the same way as you, and dances/large club parties suck if you go there not knowing anyone.

Those large social events work well if you have a "base" of friends that you can come back to (at least for me). To form that "base", I try to focus on things that aren't alcohol loud music centric.

Instead try to create 1 on 1 opportunities. It's the first week of school, go ask your suitemates if they want to get dinner. Don't worry, they probably don't think you're weird. It's the first week- judgements like that take a lot longer to form.
posted by unexpected at 9:46 AM on August 25, 2009

It's absolutely normal. I felt that way for a couple weeks until I found some other people who felt the same way I did :)

My advice: Say yes to every possible opportunity. If you don't like a particular party or dance or club or speaker or whatever, you can always leave, but you'll never know until you try.

Hang out in whatever public spaces are available. Is there an apartment lounge or a quad? Even if you're just reading a book, you'll be seen as more available and you'll feel more available if you're not in your room alone.

Once classes start I think you'll find that you start to meet a lot of people outside your apartment floor.
posted by muddgirl at 9:53 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I felt alienated for quite a while when I first got to college. Although my situation was somewhat different in that people on my floor were pretty social, I didn't click well with many of them and felt pretty lonely.

You will eventually find your niche, people who you really connect with. They are out there, I promise. Be open to noticing them.

Some things to expedite this process:
*It is the first month of school. While everyone is feeling awkward, everyone is also feeling eager to make new friends. Take advantage of this opportunity and put yourself out there. It may feel uncomfortable but it will pay off in the long run - you will find at least a few friends this way. Don't make a big deal about it - invite people to join you for dinner or come over to your suite for a drink or a study break.

*Shop around for clubs and activities that have a compatible crowd.

*Strike up conversations with people after class. Again, kind of uncomfortable but in the long run it will pay off.
posted by mai at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2009

It gets better. It does.

You will meet people with mutual interests, through classes, through organizations, through school activities, etc. Relax. That is one of the great things about college, you will meet people that share your interests if you simply pursue your interests.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2009

Maybe you and your roommates could host a party or BBQ or something for your apartment complex. I find it's easier to meet people when you have a reason for meeting them (just knocking on their door and saying hey is hard to do).

Also, join some clubs. I made tons of friends through clubs and activities and it's easier because you all have a reason for being there.
posted by lockestockbarrel at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2009

While your suitemates might normally be a good place to start, if they're 4-year students while you're a transfer, and they're already all out at parties, then it's possible they're already integrated into established social networks that may or may not have space for you. Do try extending a few dinner invitations, but don't feel hurt if nothing comes of that particular avenue.

Is it horribly dorky to suggest, instead, that you check out the campus activities scene? This may not have been a huge feature of life at community college, but my experience is that it's a lot easier to make friends in a smaller-group setting when there's some sort of interest-based selection mechanism already in place. If it's the first week, there should be a ton of introductory musical/political/religious/sports group meetings going on. Swing by, chat, make connections and you'll be fine.
posted by yersinia at 10:00 AM on August 25, 2009

That was my first semester, freshman year of college. I didn't have a driver's license yet, so I took the bus home, 3 hours each way, every single weekend. My social life was entirely centered on family and friends from my hometown, and I thought living on-campus was the worst decision I could ever have made.

One weekend, there was simply no way I could take the time for the long bus ride on Friday and back on Sunday, so I was stuck on-campus. My roommate had taken the weekend to go home, so I was totally alone. I didn't know what to do with myself, so I roamed the campus center, looking at the bulletin boards to see if there was something that might be of interest. I found two clubs, the Gay Alliance and the Science Fiction Society. I mustered up the courage to visit each one.

Both clubs had office/lounge spaces where people could just hang out. There was no requirement to sign in or give a secret handshake or even talk to anyone. I went to the Gay Alliance first and saw a lot of students doing their homework, talking to each other or just reading. I sat down on one of the couches and dug out a book. Eventually, someone asked me what I was reading, and that started a conversation. A week later, I was on a committee to poster the campus with fliers for rallies and social events, and took "office hours" to keep the club's room open.

When I went to the Science Fiction Society, it didn't even take that long. Their office was essentially a mini-library, and I asked how one would check out a book. That got me into a discussion on what was good and/or bad science fiction, and I found a bunch of like-minded geeks who were into a lot of the same things I was. They also ate lunches and dinners together, and invited me to join them. I had meals with them in the dining halls for the next 3.5 years.

So I'd say, find where your interests lie and see if there's an organization that has a low-key area in which to hang out, then go hang out there. Chances are, you're not the first student at your school who has felt this way, and there are a lot of folks looking for the same things.
posted by xingcat at 10:00 AM on August 25, 2009 [7 favorites]

Your college will have various clubs and societies, where you can meet people and learn new skills. Double win.

Go check out what's available, and if any of them remotely interest you head along to an orientation session. Activities are a better way to meet people than random parties, especially if you tend to slightly shy.

In my first week at Uni, I fessed up to my next door neighbour about feeling 'out of place'. She admitted she was too, and we giggled and bonded over the shared expereience. We're still great friends many years later. And once you have one friend, others come more easily.

And I know it's easier to say than do, but try to not worry too much. Nearly everyone is feeling overwhelmed. Promise. Have fun!
posted by Tapioca at 10:01 AM on August 25, 2009

I was an RA all through college and a residence hall director--I have a couple of insights.

First, you're doing really, really, well. In a week you've met, even if only very casually, a couple of people; you checked out, if only briefly, a dance; you have a previous network of college friends which should demonstrate to you that it does happen, if a bit gradually; and you know yourself well enough to know what kind of social situations you enjoy and do well in (one on one, developing meaningful friendships).

What this means is that you are an excellent social person who will make awesome friends, likely soon, and that you're unlikely to meet them or even want to meet them at the kind of social events that plague the first few weeks of college (loud, impersonal, lots of social lubricants). Even if you did find a way to stick around one of these things, everyone will be struggling to hear, perhaps not interested in talking, and likely drunk.

In a few weeks, everyone will settle into a more normal routine and have things to do. Keep hanging out in common areas, talk to people in classes and invite folks you click with to study breaks at coffee, and if feasible, keep your apartment door open to common hallways with a pot of coffee on and maybe some music.

If you use facebook, ask to friend interesting people you meet, and post status updates inviting folks to join you to study or for lunch somewhere. Classes, clubs, and labs really are great places to meet people beyond your living environment. If you don't use the campus rec center, that's a great place too, and a great place for meeting yet another set of folks. Lots of people are willing to break the ice by working out--go a few times, see if you notice folks in your building there, ask them if they want to go to together as a regular thing to keep accountable.

Please don't be hard on yourself for not jumping right into a scene you already know is not your best environment. It may seem you have a slow start--but all those people getting together at the beginning are unlikely to meet their best friends at those kinds of events. You'll be making meaningful connections at the same time everyone else is interested in doing so.

Good luck, I know you're going to do really well and meet people you'll care about for years and years.
posted by rumposinc at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I think this is natural to a large extent. I once longed to get invited to all the parties and all that jazz. Once I did, I realized the party scene is mostly hype, kind of like unexpected said up there. It's mostly bored or boring people trying to ease their loneliness by doing drugs or alcohol and dancing around to bad music, but nobody has the balls to admit it. That got boring pretty fast.

I made better, cooler friends by doing sports like ping pong (don't laugh), pool, soccer, darts, tennis, weight training, etc. These kinds of activities have an element of skill and mastery, which makes them so much more fun to do with others, and active people are usually (in my experience) much more level-headed and positive than party folks.
posted by Theloupgarou at 10:04 AM on August 25, 2009

There's less of a social environment, and I don't feel comfortable breaking out of the bubble of my suitemates. But it's 1:30am right now and literally all four of them are out at frat parties and etc. I feel like the ugly duckling.

I'm guessing that frat parties aren't exactly your scene (they weren't mine either), but it helps if you make an effort to tag along to things that you're not really into sometimes just so you're not alienating yourself from the group. If you're not doing anything else anyway there's not much of a harm in going with even if you end up being bored or uncomfortable, and hopefully spending more time with people will help you establish friendly relationships with them. If you never want to do anything that the group is doing, then it's probably time to find a new group.

There was a dance earlier that I checked out for a while and then shirked out of because I simply have no idea what to do and felt extremely uncomfortable.

Were you there with anyone else? Generally going to any kind of social event is a lot less awkward if you have (several) friends with you so that you spend most of the time standing/sitting around talking rather than awkwardly trying to negotiate a room full of strangers. And even in situations where you do feel out of place and uncomfortable, realize that this feeling is mostly inside your own head, and most people probably don't even notice that you're there.

Is this natural at first? What are some good approaches?

Yeah, everyone is a little uncomfortable when they move into a new situation where they don't know anyone. Just try to meet people you will want to hang out with (in your classes, in organizations, in your building, at social events, etc.) and then do things with them (start conversations, invite them to things, accept their invitations to things, email them, etc.). It might seem difficult to make friends now, but trust me it's actually relatively easy, and when you're out of school you'll wish you had as easy of a time meeting people.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:04 AM on August 25, 2009

Get involved in or start a campus organization.
posted by phrontist at 10:20 AM on August 25, 2009

I'll echo the note that it's normal. It's especially hard to enter a 4-year environment when you didn't start as a freshman along with others. They've had a couple years of bonding and learning the social ropes, and it's not quite the same when you jump in midway. I can relate; I transferred in after 2 years, too.

My strongest recommendation is to get into extracurriculars. Go to a lot of meetings. All the clubs and groups will be having their recruitment meetings within the next few weeks. Check them out if you're even marginally interested. Opportunities will range from language-speaking clubs, outdoor groups, writing for the paper or lit mag, service, LGBT, politics, student government, computer lab tutoring, music, you name it. Just go and check things out. If you like the people, keep going back to their meetings and events. That's really the very best way to get to know people that you genuinely like - and they will ultimately form the group that you do social activities with.

Not only that, but the one thing I regret about how I handled my college experience is not doing more extracurriculars and doing them more seriously. As dorky as it sounds, those organizational experiences and the opportunities they offered are one of the more lasting valuable things college offers.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on August 25, 2009

I don't feel comfortable breaking out of the bubble of my suitemates.

this is not a reason not to break out of the bubble of your suitemates. The secret is that everyone feels the way you do. You just can't tell. Nor can others tell that you feel that way, even if it seems like everyone can see right through you.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2009

Shit, kid, everyone feels like you do at some points. Really. I'm kind of a cocky scene queeny kind of girl and I spend more time than I care to admit skulking around self-conciously and thinking "what am I doing here I'm weird oh god everyone else has friends I want to go hoooooome." Mostly I just fake it until I make it.

*Wear clothes that make you feel confident; this is going to vary from person to person. One person is going to feel best in a web-comic shirt they find hilarious, one person gets a kick out of dapper button-ups and fitted slacks, and I personally feel like I'm the Rockawesome Ruler of the World wearing cat ears and big ridiculous eyeglasses.

*Make inventive business cards so people remember you. This does not have to be expensive. Think spoke cards out of laminated cardstock, a custom stamp on scraps of junk mail, or printing onto sticker paper.

*Try to spend less time alone in your room, even if you lack the courage to approach anyone. Read books outside, study in coffeeshops, etc.

*Design a weird mysterious flyer and post it all over campus.

*Organize some event; a party, a sick-nic, a study group, a flash mob. When you see anyone interesting say "Hey, I thought you might enjoy this," hand them a flyer. If they show up (maybe 1/4 of people you invite to things actually show up if you don't know them well) say hi to them again.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:26 AM on August 25, 2009

Does your school have a dining hall or cafeteria? Are you on any type of meal plan?

This probably works better if your school isn't huge, but I met tons of people through the dining hall at my school. I would go by myself, and if I recognized anyone (even just someone from one of my classes who I hadn't necessary talked to before) already sitting a table, I would ask if I could sit with them. Then I would meet whoever they had been sitting with. I continued to repeat this pattern, until I had met enough people that I would almost always find someone I knew to sit with.

I met lots of people this way who I never would have hang out with outside of the dining hall, or who I wouldn't consider eating with again. Regardless, it bolstered my confidence and it helped me find a lot of people who ended up becoming close friends.
posted by puffin at 10:27 AM on August 25, 2009

I'm join some clubs and stuff, as other people have said. I also remember the first month or two of college as being fairly awkward. Just join a team or group of some kind and you'll automatically have some people to hang out with.

You might also find some good advice in this thread.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:29 AM on August 25, 2009

It took a couple weeks or so for me to find My Tribe my first year of college. I tried a couple mixers, and didn't have fun...I tried hanging around a couple student centers, it didn't work.

But I just stayed open and up to making friends, no matter what the circumstances; if it happened, great, if not, I'd just hang in there and keep trying. And then came one night when our RA for our floor called a floor-wide meeting to address some major crisis some other student in the building was having -- this big serious "you may have heard rumors, here's the real deal" kind of thing -- and we were all sitting out in the hallway, and the RA finished his remarks and left us all there. Most people got up and went back into their rooms, and a bunch of the rest of us were still sitting out there and we were all looking at each other, and one person finally introduced themselves and then the rest of us did and we ended up all sitting out in the hallway and talking until about 1 in the morning. And that was how the core group of people who got me through my freshman year in college all finally met -- we'd just go sit out in the hall every night yakking about life and shooting the breeze (one of my roommates called us the "hall rats"), and I think at one point we attempted to formally secede from the union and form our own country, complete with National Anthem (the song "Tempted" by Squeeze, if memory serves).

The moral of the story -- just stay open to being social in any and all situations, because you never know when you may make a connection with people. If I found my tribe at an emergency crisis intervention meeting, who knows where you'll find your people.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:31 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

> First, you're doing really, really, well. In a week you've met, even if only very casually, a couple of people; you checked out, if only briefly, a dance; you have a previous network of college friends which should demonstrate to you that it does happen, if a bit gradually; and you know yourself well enough to know what kind of social situations you enjoy and do well in (one on one, developing meaningful friendships).

Seconding this.

It is totally natural to feel weird and out of place in your situation. I think there is some really good advice in this thread, particularly the recommendations to

-join clubs/societies
-be open to accepting invitations even if you think the concert/club/event might not be exactly your thing (as muddgirl says, you can always leave)
-just gather up your courage and ask someone to join your for coffee/a bite to eat.

I think once the semester gets underway it will be a lot easier. Good luck from one shy person to another!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:00 AM on August 25, 2009

I notice you're posting this at 1:30 AM, so I'll share something that I found useful when feeling lonely and left out on weekends while at college: Go to sleep earlier.

I'm a night owl, but I've found that staying up late for no good reason just gives me more time to mull over all my perceived problems and inadequacies, eat things for comfort, and generally feel sorry for myself. It was tough, but if I didn't have anything else to do, I just started making myself go to bed. This helped me feel less depressed, made it easier to be outgoing, and had the added bonus of keeping me from eating all those tasty cookies that I really didn't need.
posted by TBAcceptor at 11:04 AM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is there a bulletin board or anything on your floor or in your dorm? This is what I did, in a similar suite-style dorm, as opposed to those long-hallway-shared-bathroom type deals.

MAKE FOOD. One poster [taped near the elevators], advertising free baked goods and really, nothing else, attracted a crap ton of people. People fucking love food.

And really, baking isn't that difficult- even those box mixes turn out alright. Have some music flowing, chat about classes starting, that sort of thing. As people filter out, let them know you're usually around to hang out and do low-key things.

Volunteer to friend them on Facebook. College doesn't have to be about frat parties, but it does do well to have a few friends to buddy up with for late night studying or just vegging out.

Good luck!
posted by rachaelfaith at 11:32 AM on August 25, 2009

Oh, and for what it's worth, my freshman-year roommates were totally into going out to clubs [not my thing] and drinking [also not my thing] and I was able to find more than a few kindred spirits that I could hang out with. You're not an ugly duckling, you just have to find a place that makes you feel comfortable. You can do it.
posted by rachaelfaith at 11:35 AM on August 25, 2009

There are a lot of strong ideas embedded in our culture about what college is "supposed" to be like. Most of them are lies. The best thing to do is to put completely from your mind the idea of having a "typical" college experience, whatever that may mean to you. Whenever you feel like you "ought" to be going to boozy parties, or making more friends, or anything like that, forget it. No one's keeping score. Just continue to speak to the people whose company you enjoy; if you're lucky, you'll make some good friends, if not, you'll make some lukewarm ones. There's no guarantee you'll make the best friends of your life, but as long as you keep putting yourself out there, it's hard not to come out ahead in the long run.

Also, don't feel bad if you need to lean on your friends from home; that's what they're there for. I will always be grateful to my high school friends who tolerated my various complaints about how much I hated my college and everyone in it. You probably don't need to be as bitter and unpleasant as I was (sorry guys), but don't be afraid to 'fess up that you're having a difficult time. If others of them have also gone on to 4-year schools, they're probably feeling pretty similar.
posted by Commander Rachek at 11:45 AM on August 25, 2009

Been there. And i never did get to know anyone in my own halls. Yes, its rather terrifying to suddenly be surrounded by people, none of whom you know. Or at least, it was for me.

I found that by getting the guts to talk to whoever was near me in my classes, or whoever else seemed seriously pissed off at yet another fire drill, i eventually found someone who wanted to hang out with me. And then i got introduced to the people they know, and so on.

Good luck. This probably wasnt very helpful, but its normal. And i think most people get it
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:13 PM on August 25, 2009

I met most of my college friends (many of whom I'm still friends with 15 years later) by:

1) Playing pool. I suck, but only so many people can fit around a pool table, so socializing with smaller groups is easy.
2) Hanging out in common areas into the wee hours of the morning. Most people are asleep, so ordering a pizza with the few remaining becomes a good ice breaker (assuming these are people you WANT to break the ice with).

Like you, I don't work well in large groups.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:30 PM on August 25, 2009

Don't worry. I felt very much the same when I started college. It took me a little while to find My People, but I eventually found them. Don't think that in order to feel accepted or have fun you have to change your interests or start doing things/activities you don't like. I'm SURE you'll find your niche.
posted by Cygnet at 12:39 PM on August 25, 2009

Get involved in a club or activity. There is almost certainly something for you: sports, the spanish club, a frat, honor fraternity, student government - whatever. You'll be able to meet new people in a relaxed atmosphere, and undoubtedly, become friends with some of them.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:28 PM on August 25, 2009

I say this as a somewhat introverted person who was afraid of this going into college. It's natural, and it was tough for me in my first couple weeks.

If you were in a dorm, it might be easier, but do not fear. My suggestion is to find groups and clubs to join. I was part of the lit mag and met some great people through that. Intramural sports, societies, etc. Find something that interests you and try to connect with people that are interested in the same thing. Or try to find new things.

Once classes will start, make an effort to engage with people. And try to at least be social with your roommates. You might not become friends, but if anything, it will improve your living situation, and they might end up inviting you.

My best advice, as an introverted person, is to dive in. It's going to be hard, it's going to be uncomfortable, it might not even be fun at first, but I found that for me, the best way to deal with social situations is to have no choice but to deal with them. If I waited until certain social situations felt right before I tried them, I would have never tried them in the first place. And not that I am advocating drinking, but it's called a social lubricant for a reason. I am not advising to you to get sloppy drunk, but a drink or two might take the edge off of the whole thing.
posted by X-Himy at 1:39 PM on August 25, 2009

While I bonded very quickly w/ the people on my floor in my first year of college, I didn't end up staying friends with any of them. I gradually met people through clubs and activities that I actually had things in common with, and they're the ones I formed lasting friendships with. My point being, it's very easy to feel alienated and out of place at the beginning, but the friendships that form at that point can be fleeting, as they are partially based on mutual fear and loneliness. Take your time, explore clubs and activities, and you'll be fine. You'll meet your people.
posted by Mavri at 4:10 PM on August 25, 2009

It's your first week. I felt out of my element and isolated a great deal of my first semester. Everyone feels this way, whether they show it or not. Fortunately, my college life improved vastly, but only as a result of my going out and and being proactive. Find the place where you feel comfortable. For me, it was the radio station and choir. The trick is to keep trying new things. Don't give up.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 5:08 PM on August 25, 2009

It took me about a semester to feel comfortable at college and to find a group of friends.

I would recommend checking out a couple clubs that sound interesting. As my username might suggest, I found my niche at my school's radio station. I can't imagine my college experience without it.
posted by radioamy at 5:12 PM on August 25, 2009

I met my roommate, and one of my best friends of nearly ten years now, at college. We never had a single class together, and he was a transfer student who lived off campus, while I dormed.

I was sitting outside the student union one day between classes, he asked if he could sit with me, and struck up a conversation. Two days later, the same thing. We both had a break at the same time on our tuesday/thursday schedule, and took to hanging out together at the union getting lunch during it. I found out later how painfully shy he is, turns out he saw me there for ages, knew we had similar interests, and it took him a while to get up the nerve to come chat.

Me, I was (am?) a goth, and went to the biggest university in my region. So through various local mailing lists etc I was able to say "hey, anybody go to school X? Want to hang sometime?" If you post to any larger forum that allows chat go for it. This was, however, a decade ago. These days, I think I'd friend anyone I casually meet, friends of friends, etc, from campus on facebook, and throw out a "I'm bored, anyone on campus want to go see the the movie at the union/ hit the dining hall/ come over and watch popular TV show/ etc?" status update now and again.

I never did make a lot of friends in my own dorm, though.
posted by Kellydamnit at 5:14 PM on August 25, 2009

I've always thought of myself as a pretty social guy. And during the first 6-8 weeks of college, I felt so out of place. A few weeks later I met a few kids from down the hall in my dorm. 5 years after graduating, I look back on my time at college as 4 really wonderful years, in no small part due to the friends I made and the time I spent with them.

Really, all it takes is time. Being in a dorm helps, but there's so many ways to make friends in college. Go to meetings for any club that interests you. Make small talk with people sitting next to you in class, go to study groups-just talk to people. They'll be just as happy to make your acquaintance as you theirs, mostly.

Just give it time, and make the effort to meet folks. You'll make friends.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 6:07 PM on August 25, 2009

Take comfort in the fact that everyone around you also feels alienated and out of place. If you make an extra effort to include people around you, knock on people's doors, suggest hanging out with people you don't know, you'll feel better and so will they. It will feel a little awkward at first, but just knowing they feel the same way you do (and are trying their best to hide it) will help. Don't wait for them to come to you, get out there and say hi to people!
posted by picapica at 12:31 PM on August 27, 2009

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