Moving away to university in September. What can I do to meet people, and improve my abysmal social life, confidence, and interpersonal skills?
August 15, 2012 3:04 PM   Subscribe

Moving away to university in September. What can I do to meet people, and improve my abysmal social life, confidence, and interpersonal skills?

I have felt like a lone wolf for almost all of my teenage and young adult life. Although I’ve always had a small group of friends, I never really felt that they were that great or compelled to hang out with them. I had a long-term girlfriend for awhile which was a great confidence booster, and allowed me to focus on one person for companionship. But since that has ended, apart from reconnecting with my friends a bit, I have felt pretty much solitary.

I don’t think it’s because of any one reason, rather just a mix low self-esteem most my life, small group of friends without opportunity to network, and a bit of approach anxiety maybe. Up until now I have been pretty much fine with this. But since my last relationship ended I have felt my confidence improve, and a desire for better company and friends.

I’m moving to a new city for the first time in my life in September. I won’t know anyone, and I feel this would be a good opportunity for me to come out of my shell and try to meet new people. Since I will not be living in the dorms, I have planned a few things to do in my new city to help me: I have applied as a volunteer for a youth group in the area, hopefully to help me build confidence and network a bit. I have reluctantly bought ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, which I have heard recommended countless times. I am also ready to join a club and study groups to help me network at school. Also, I feel like I am confident enough to engage with the person next to me in class, when usually I would shut up and keep to myself.

Basically I don’t want to be a lone wolf anymore, I would like a group of good people to be around and have fun. I’m well dressed and friendly, just lack the confidence to get out there. So I’m curious if anyone else has experience moving to a new city, and how they managed to meet new people. What advice do you have for someone who has been a solitary person for most of their life?
posted by Snorlax to Human Relations (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, my first advice would be to live in a dorm. So many good memories were formed just sitting in the lounge area of my dorm while I was doing my work, or just chance encounters that came while sitting in my dorm room because I left my door wide open for anyone to poke their head in.

But other than that, go to all the orientation events. Go to parties. Take up an extracurricular or a sport that you like and meet people through that-- and really get involved in it. If you see a flyer about an interesting event or some group looking for new members that sounds interesting, you should, at the very least, find out more. Get on the e-mail list for your department to make sure you hear about events, seminars, and job openings. The point is to stay in touch about what's going on.
posted by deanc at 3:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

University is a great time to meet people. Most of the other students will be new to the city too and won't know anybody else. I have been in your shoes three times and all these times I have managed to meet people despite being shy in social situations.


Hobbies and interests.

Most universities have tonnes of special interest groups: from chess clubs to rugby teams; from steampunk societies to beer brewing clubs. Photography, choirs, theatre, RPGing, poetry lovers, cinema geeks.. if you can think of it, I bet you there'll be a special interest group.

Make sure you attend the first few weeks' introductory events even if you don't think the events are going to be your thing. I remember forcing myself along to an International Students' Night which was as dire as I thought it would be, but I also met somebody who introduced me to a now good friend.

So, take a deep breath and go explore.
posted by kariebookish at 3:19 PM on August 15, 2012

Dorms or other group living is a good way to throw you into the social pool.

Student clubs are also a great way to meet people and usually have a low threshold for participation. The introductory week of school will be lots of meetings/mixers/info sessions. Go to them. Invite people who are also new to go to them. Most of my good friends through out university I met during the info meeting for the college radio station. 12 years later, I would say 90% of my friends have some how come about because of my work in the station. You don't necessarily have to stick with the clubs, but they are a great way to meet people with similar interests.
posted by kendrak at 3:27 PM on August 15, 2012

Make sure you attend the first few weeks' introductory events even if you don't think the events are going to be your thing.

I cannot say THIS hard enough. My oldest friend (going on 25 years now) and I met at a 1st term freshman fall thing that neither of us wanted to be at - our undergraduate advisers made us go. It was a small school, so we probably would have met one way or another, but this was the best way. I met a lot of people that way, and have remained friends for years because of it.

And if an acquaintance says to you "Hey, do you want to go..." say yes. And practice saying it to people. Some will say no and lots won't and some will keep saying yes and boom, friends. Or at least fun people to hang out with who like doing things you like.
posted by rtha at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2012

Live in a dorm and do EVERYTHING in the first two weeks. Like the person above says- if there is some kind of weird event, go. And if you live in a dorm, most of the people will also know NO ONE so they are in the same boat as you. Like the 'shit my dad says' guy says (or the dad, actually) 'don't decide for other people that they aren't going to like you. Let them decide that for themselves!' To paraphrase! And joking, you will meet people you like and who like you but the first couple of weeks are absolutely the time to jump in before any cliques gel.

And like the other above person said, continue to engage in things you are interested in. I regret not doing that enough at school, I made friends initially and then when I saw "oh, outdoor club! oh, student newspaper! oh, debate club! etc" I didn't go because I already had pals and thought they might think it was lame/unnecessary. BIG MISTAKE. I would have expanded my social circle, had a great time and learned some new things.

This is a golden opportunity, embrace it!

Oh bugger, you said you aren't living in a dorm. Well then definitely do ALL POSSIBLE ACTIVITIES.
posted by bquarters at 3:48 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Say yes to everything. If someone invites you to go somewhere or do something, even if it doesn't sound like your kind of thing, do it.

I only have two caveats to this:

1. If the activity sounds dangerous/stupid/seriously illegal/overly risky: being or riding with a drunk driver, shooting heroin, stealing, breaking windows, etc. It's ok to say no to these sorts of things. They're outside your comfort zone for a reason.

2. If the activity suggested is REALLY not a good fit for you (such as, you're an Atheist invited to a meeting of the Born Again Christians club.)

But if an acquaintance has an extra ticket to a Bluegrass band, just go. Even if you're not into Bluegrass. You'll still get a chance to hang out and meet people you wouldn't otherwise meet.
posted by cleverevans at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2012

Getting out and getting into student activities is a great idea but timing is important - make your efforts more at the beginning whilst everyone is new, even to the point of letting study slide a bit (you can catch up later- that's what everyone else will be doing) so you have more time to attend stuff early on.

Collect all possible names and phone numbers - even people you don't like - because you'd be surprised who has class with whom or who met whom at activity x yesterday, so even the people you don't like might have interesting connections (or turn out to be cool themselves of course!!)

Don't be afraid to propose stuff, and realise it is a numbers game to some extent - people are meeting loads of people and some of them will stick, but some (maybe even many) won't. It is not personal so don't give up.

Go ahead and experiment - lots of others will want to shake of their old shackles as well, and nobody knows anything about you except what you tell them and what they can observe.

Don't feel like an outsider just because you don't live in a dorm. At uni I got invited to dorm things but never felt like I could go because I didn't live there, and it turned out to be a mistake. I ended up dating a guy who spent a year in a dorm and said they had outsiders visit all the time and they were perfectly welcome, expected even. So dorm activities are absolutely open to people who don't live in the dorms themselves - don't see barriers where none exist, like I did!

Be willing to accept that you might just like being a lone wolf, despite having the option of being better connected, and if that is your eventual choice, that is ok.
posted by EatMyHat at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

In terms of confidence and interpersonal skills - see if the uni has a counseling service or any sort of courses that might address this stuff. I had a great counselor who definitely helped my confidence, and I know they ran courses from time to time on student issues like anxiety and stress management etc. Some of that will just come with time and practise I think.

Although it sounds like you are not specifically worried about the opposite sex there was The Guide to Scoring at Stanford which looks at confidence and might make for complementary reading.
posted by EatMyHat at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find and join the facebook page(s) of your university's "class of ..." or "incoming freshmen" or "theatre majors" or whatever various cohorts you're part of. So much social stuff is planned on facebook these days. My son hates facebook and deactivated his account last spring, and now he never knows what's going on even with his friends who he talks/texts with every day. Open mic nights, parties, rehearsal schedules, discussions about assignments ... everything is planned on facebook.
posted by headnsouth at 4:35 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was shy when I went off to University, and now I'm not at all. Looking back on it, close friendships were forged through shared experiences, and for me this was my classmates because we were always always always working on group projects and going to lectures and studying together and so on. One friend was a 'don' / RA (senior student who lived in the dorms to monitor the freshman) and the group of dons formed the core of his social life. Someone I know joined a volleyball club/team and they became his good friends. Living in a shared house with a bunch of people is great because you could become friends with your roommates, and with their friends. In general, the more intense, long-term, and penetrating the shared experience, the more you and the people around you tend to come out of your shells, and the higher the potential for a deep connection. I think the key is to find something that will bring you out. So maybe sports or theatre clubs are better than a study group, for example.

For many people living in a dorm gives them a group of friends, but this didn't happen for me in any lasting sense largely because I had very little in common with most of my dorm-mates, and because I was still way too shy going in. My failure to immediately break free of my shyness caused me a lot of anxiety and pain back then and from this vantage point, ten years later, I wish I could have told myself that it is okay if you are not instantly the most popular kid in school, and that friendships find you when you're ready, and that it could take years (many years, maybe your whole life) to become the person you want to be -- but that long-term introspection and the desire for self-improvement will allow you to reach heights far higher than you dream possible for yourself now, so don't be discouraged if progress seems slow.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:55 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Join things. I was not popular in high school, but I had a TON of friends in college. I joined the theater group because the fall play my freshman year was my favorite Shakespeare comedy. I didn't have a great time working on the show until the week before the performance and then suddenly...BAM...everyone was my friend and we were all together ALL THE TIME. It was great. I was in the choir and had a bunch of friends there.

Do study groups. If you're chatting with someone after class, don't hesitate to say that you're heading to the cafeteria/coffee shop/whatever, do they want to come with you? It's pretty low stakes and most people (if they don't have another class) will probably go.

Your school will probably have a commuters group. Get to know those folks. Commuters at my school were some of the most interesting people on campus.

I think as long as you seem nice and are reasonably friendly, you will do just fine. I cried every day for the first two weeks of my freshman year of college. I was so miserable, I made arrangements for my uncle to pick my up and take my home for Labor Day weekend. Yeah, by the time Labor Day came around, I'd made friends and didn't want to go. Heh.
posted by Aquifer at 5:09 PM on August 15, 2012

Dorm if you can. Before living in a dorm it sounded terrifying. During living in a dorm it felt like I had to make all the right social decisions all the time. After living in a dorm I wondered why I worried so much what all these 95% of people *I would never ever see again* thought of me. Luckily I did some of the right things and twenty years later I still number 5-6 people that I shared that dorm with as good friends. Just do what feels right, fun and honest to yourself. Good things stick, bad things are forgotten by next week/term/year.

This is true of university life in general, by the way, just more obviously in shared accommodation.
posted by cromagnon at 5:16 PM on August 15, 2012

You gain self-esteem through mastery. So, if you've always wanted to learn to do something--now is the time! And remember, everyone else, no matter how they appear, is more that likely feeling as awkward and isolated as you feel. So, talk to people on line, in your classes--try new stuff. Never been contra dancing? Try it out. Learn to play some sport, some game, try a new look, join a club, and all the other good advice mentioned above.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Live in the dorm. The rest of the advice in this paragraph pertains to living in the dorm: Keep your door open when you're in your room as much as possible. Even if you're studying, if you can -- I used noise-cancelling headphones. Say hi to people when you're brushing your teeth and so are they. Knock on your neighbors' doors and ask if they want to go to dinner.

If you're absolutely set on living off-campus (and oh, I wish you wouldn't, because it can be so isolating if you are already introverted), stay on campus to study. Study in the union or the student center, as opposed to the library. Strike up conversations with the people sitting around you in class, before and after. If you have a good conversation with someone, ask if they want to grab coffee or lunch or dinner - "Hey, I was going to walk to Really Good Cheap Lunch Place - want to come?" Don't be afraid to be the person initiating social contact, or to be the Person who Plans Fun Outings. Ask a couple of friendly faces in your classes if they'd like to start a study group with you. Go to whatever club/activities fair your school hosts and ask the intro meetings for at least three groups you're interested in are. Go to a few and then pick one or two and stick with those. Ask people to hang out after meetings. Get to know your community off-campus - lots of great, non-school activities get passed up because they're not right on campus.

Interpersonally, walk around on campus with your head up. Smile at strangers who make eye contact with you. Leave the ubiquitous iPod headphones off - they get in the way of spontaneous conversation.
posted by honeybee413 at 5:43 PM on August 15, 2012

Even if you think people don't like you / aren't interested in having you there / are better friends with each other than with you, keep trying. (Unless of course they say something to you explicitly). When I was in college I wanted to join this club sport, that was very informally run by the students. Half the club meeting times, it was just people sitting around and talking about in-stuff I didn't know about and things I hadn't been invited to. It seemed like even the other newer people were being accepted in much faster and everyone was becoming BFFs except me. I kept going though and it took almost a year, but eventually this group turned out to be some of the best friends I ever made in my life. I also ended up having an awesome puppy love relationship with the "hunk" of the group, when I had felt at first like all the other girls were way more attractive than I was and someone like him wouldn't even want to be friends with me. Just take it slow, keep trying, keep being friendly, stay positive, stay patient.
posted by cairdeas at 6:11 PM on August 15, 2012

I didn't live in a dorm, and I'm an introvert, and I did just fine meeting people. Join the clubs, say yes to things, hang out in a place where other people are around, invite people to do things, say hi to the person sitting next to you in class -- there are all sorts of ways to meet people (many mentioned above) that work just fine if you don't live in a dorm.
posted by jeather at 6:19 PM on August 15, 2012

1) I think 10% of people are genuinely socially awkward, 10% of people are smooth as butter, and 80% of people are feeling awkward all the time but actually socially fine. So realize that seriously 9 in 10 people feel just as socially awkward as you do, especially around strangers. Reaching out to others is a mitzvah, because you're helping really nice people who feel too awkward to reach out to you. This always makes it easier for me to reach out, because talking to strangers is hard, but doing a nice thing for someone else is easy for me! I remind myself these people all WANT someone to talk to them and feel awkward and dorky and then I'm not thinking about myself and my awkwardness, I'm thinking about making someone else comfortable. Works really well.

2) None of these people have ever met you before and they have no idea what you're like. They are meeting so many people that if you literally fall on your face, they will not remember who that was. (They'll remember it happened, but not who it was.) You can be anyone you want to be because you're not hemmed in by others' expectations, and you have a window at the beginning of school where people won't remember embarrassing things you do. Take advantage. These people have no idea you feel socially awkward; for all they know you're the most outgoing person on the planet. So be the most outgoing person on the planet!

I realized in college I could do all kinds of things I didn't do in high school because I was afraid people would be judgmental about it, and I tried all kinds of crazy new things and had a fantastic time and met a ton of people. I really feel like that realization that my life was suddenly a blank slate was very liberating for me, and all the practice I had then doing things I thought were awesome (instead of things I thought were expected) carried me into the rest of my life (so far) doing awesome things even if it might be embarrassing. Once you get a taste of being adventurous it's hard to stop!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You don't need to live in a dorm to meet people. Lots of the time they're overpriced, force you to eat crappy food and delay you from learning useful life skills. I'm sure you've already made the choice that's right for you on that one.

So here's some things that might be helpful from my experience of moving away for university. Find out what the cool attractions are in your city and invite people to them indiscriminately. Concerts, beaches, parks, cheap films, museums with student rates, hikes, whatever you think is cool. Then invite everyone you meet to tag along and spread the word. You will not be the only one looking for friends and there's lots of opportunity for low pressure interaction that way.

If you're wanting to take advantage of some of this dorms advice, I know a couple of people who made friends by befriending people who live in residence and hanging out there.

Other than that, don't worry about making close friends too much. Just take any opportunity to meet as many people as possible and you'll figure out who suits you later. People change quickly when they enter university and there's no sense in limiting yourself to a small group right away by always hanging with the same people. From experience, some of the social anxiety is relieved initially because everyone's having the same conversation (where are you from? what classes are you taking? what are you interested in? etc...) so there's always a starting point.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:01 PM on August 15, 2012

The wonderful thing about the beginning of university is that ALMOST EVERYONE is in the same boat - they don't have friends or social circles or habits or 'regular hangouts'. You're all on the same foot. And that means that the more outgoing people are going to be looking for friends, just like you. So, the best thing you can do: (1)Say "yes" to every single solitary social invitation you get. It's what made my university experience aproximately 800% more fun and less lonely than my high school experience, and you can be pretty damn shy and still execute it.

"Go for coffee?" "Yes"
"Walk to the library together?" "Yes"
"You going to the bar on thursday?" "Yes"
"Can i borrow your textbook?" "Yes, want to meet me at starbucks when you return it?"

And the other thing: (2) If you have something nice to say, always say it. It attracts people to you, makes you seem friendly and nice. That is often way more important that being 'cool' or funny.

"I like your sweater!"
"You're from Somewhereville? That's my favourite place to xyz".
"Your band is playing? I bet you're good!"
"I heard that prof was awesome"
"My new apartment is kinda small but it has a great location, I love it."
posted by Kololo at 7:27 PM on August 15, 2012

Get a student job on campus, preferably a sort of menial job (like sitting at the information desk or working in the bookstore) that leaves you time to chit chat with your coworkers.
posted by anaelith at 8:14 PM on August 15, 2012

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