Grad school - last chance to make friends, but how?
April 3, 2015 12:12 PM   Subscribe

I finally start my grad school program this coming week. I attended the new student orientation last week and most of the people seem like cool and interesting people. But how does one go about making friends in grad school? + Special Snowflake details

As I've alluded to before, I'm currently living in another country where I am about to start a masters program. I've been living here for about ~7 months (not really doing anything and thus moping around and being depressed constantly. Don't ask me why I decided to come so early but I did and I can't go back and fix that) and the moment that I've been waiting for has finally arrived. I should be excited, right? More like excited but extremely anxious.

But before that, I think I should clarify a few things.

- I'm pretty much finished with trying to use the internet and apps to meet people here. This culture is an extremely extroverted one and much, much more value is placed on meeting people in real life than through apps and internet. It is far more accepted to pick up dates at a bar or a club than it is to use OKC or Tinder or something like that (unlike in the US where OKC and Tinder are pretty much mainstream and accepted things that people use to meet other people). Most locals befriend people and get to know others through either school or work. TL;DR, internet and apps are either for people looking for Just Sex or people who have Issues. I've tried internet and apps and literally nothing good has come from them (see my last question).

- I've tried going to IRL groups as well, though nothing has ever worked out b/c I have found out that I am never actually interested in what the group is about. This is a very artsy, cosmopolitan city with a very strong arts scene, but I am not personally very interested in the arts (e.g. I tried to take a theater class "in order to meet people" but since I actually didn't really enjoy theater I just stopped going). I don't really have any "strong" hobbies so to speak either, I pretty much just like to read and research things that interest me, or maybe go to a lecture or documentary showing about a topic I am interested in (less artsy and more social and political topics), though these are all very clearly solitary activities and I have no clue how to engage in a conversation with someone who is also attending said lecture/documentary showing. However, I do actually enjoy creative writing (narrative fiction) a lot and have signed up for a free creative writing class so we'll see how that goes.

- I don't currently have a job, even though I now have legal residence in this country due to my studies and can legally work, because here one needs either TEFL of some sort (for teaching English) or dependable local friends to obtain a job that isn't some type of exploitative scam (I have neither TEFL nor dependable local friends). This has also contributed a lot to my depression and makes me constantly stressed out about money (I'm 23 years old and my mother is basically sending me money every month at this point to supplement my meager savings, and that makes me feel like such a giant piece of shit).

Anyway, back to grad school (sorry for the brief detour, but I just felt the need to mention those things beforehand in order to prevent anyone from suggesting I go on OKC or "take a pottery class" or "meet people at work" or whatever).

I feel like grad school is my last chance, so to speak, to make real friends in this city (I have a couple of contacts but I haven't seen them in real life in months for various reasons). But I have no idea how exactly to go about doing that. First thing's first, the university that I'm attending and the places where I have class are not a part of a USA-style "campus," so to speak. This is to say that I go to class in a building in the city that's a part of the city as opposed to traveling every day to a self-contained college campus. This, of course, makes befriending people much more difficult.

I'll be taking 3 classes that each meet once a week in the evening, which IMO, would be the perfect opportunity to perhaps go out for drinks or a light dinner or something after class. Obvious suggestion is that I be the one to ask everyone, but that scares the shit out of me because I am literally terrified of rejection from people in the social sense and I'm afraid that everyone will either be busy or make up an excuse or think I'm weird for asking and weird for wanting to befriend people in grad school (since most of the other students are locals who already have a close network of friends).

On the bright side, I am not just limited to befriending people in my specific program, since the school allows a lot of freedom for students to choose which classes they want to take, which means I could be in a class with students both from my program and from others that the school offers.

However, since this is an academic setting, I fear I'm going to be constantly worried about saying something stupid or uneducated and having people look down on me for that. x100 because I am a foreigner in this country and I don't want people to think I'm a "stupid foreigner" or like "how did she even get into this program" or whatever. I like to think I am a very humble person so I don't think I'll be That Person in grad school who constantly talks about themselves and their accomplishments (I really have no accomplishments to talk about anyway) and their research interests, so I hope that people will notice that at least. I also hope that people will not assume certain things about me because I am a foreigner, and a foreign woman at that, and yeah, I know that if someone does they are clearly a stupid person anyway, but still, like I said above, I'm terrified of being rejected by people, like it literally breaks my heart (which is part of the reason why I am also terrified to Put Myself Out There).

Oh! Therapy, because I know that's going to be mentioned. I've been going to therapy here for like 3-4 months now but I don't really feel like it's helping (it's like the cheapest therapy I can find here, which is why I go). However, I've been going to therapists since I was like 6-7 years old and none of them have ever helped me. I also used to take meds in the past for depression but they didn't have an effect on me either (like I would randomly stop taking them for months at a time and I felt just the same as I always did). I don't take meds anymore b/c I don't have a lot of money and I have no idea how much they would cost here. So I don't know. I think it's really just me and I have to find ways to improve myself on my own, though while getting advice from others.

Lastly, I really just want to stick to befriending people here who are in grad school with me, or who are studying in my field or just studying in general at either my university or other universities in the city, as opposed to going to "language exchanges" or couchsurfing meetups or whatever. I feel like I would have more in common with them/relate with them more and anyway, I get a lot of language practice already by virtue of my study program (there are some readings in English but the primary language is not English, though I clearly have a good enough grasp of it to be able to do academic work). I am also not a fan of the "expat community" in this city and do not wish to associate with them either, because from what I've gathered via their online posts and blogs, most of them are the type to moan and complain about how terrible this country is while living in and hanging out in some of the most expensive and nice areas of the city, i.e. Not My Scene At All. Foreigners like me who also do not enjoy these type of people are usually are extroverted enough and/or have a "strong" hobby (particularly in the arts) like I mentioned above and have dependable local friends and therefore do not need the "help" of the "expat community." I want to be like these people, but with people in the social sciences school of the university where I study + people in the same field in other nearby universities.

I apologize if this question seems disjointed or incomprehensible, and apologies for rambling.
posted by lana0112 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
you will meet people in class. ask to study together. join student groups. be a student group leader. it will happen :)
posted by TRUELOTUS at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2015

It's easy. Just smile and be nice. It takes time so don't be impatient. And ask people to do stuff with you.
posted by discopolo at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2015

Best answer: However, since this is an academic setting, I fear I'm going to be constantly worried about saying something stupid or uneducated and having people look down on me for that. x100 because I am a foreigner in this country and I don't want people to think I'm a "stupid foreigner" or like "how did she even get into this program" or whatever.

It is vitally important that you understand that basically everyone in grad school feels this way all the time.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:31 PM on April 3, 2015 [35 favorites]

First off, without knowing your medical history, I would say don't be so quick to brush off your therapy/medications. How do you know it hasn't helped if you've been in therapy since such a young age? Perhaps you have learned coping mechanisms that you haven't even realized you learned while going to therapy. Same goes with the medication. So, based on the high amount of anxiety that I am sensing you are feeling, I suggest you continue doing both if you can.

Second of all, I've been in grad school now for four years. I'm not a social butterfly; I tend to keep to myself for the most part. But the best friends I have made are the ones that I started out studying with. I'd suggest we go over the homework or the readings together and then go out for a drink afterwards. I've made countless friends in this way...we text each other when we don't understand something in class, and eventually we end up talking about other things. Making friends is an organic process. You can't really force it, and there's no magic formula.

You can always ALWAYS find something to relate to someone about. I studied in a foreign country when I was in college. One of the best friends that I made was a native of that country. She and I bonded because I became the person she spoke to while she was going through her "coming of age " (she was gay and was just coming out). Love is a universal feeling. We talked about that. It transcended any cultural or linguistic barriers.

Be open, be a good listener, and be willing to go outside of your comfort zone. Eventually you will find that what was once uncomfortable no longer is.
posted by kbennett289 at 12:34 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I can understand where you are coming from...I was a very socially anxious kid and teenager (VERY) and have slowly shed a lot of that anxiety over time. I have several decades-long close, reciprocal friendships with people who have stuck by me through some difficult times and vice versa. It is possible!!

Honestly, the thing that helped me most was training myself to believe that other people weren't judging me nearly as much as I feared they were. Time has provided evidence that this is almost always true. Most people are waaaaaay too busy worrying about what YOU think of THEM to be judging you. Or they are mostly focused on themselves, or other things altogether that have nothing to do with you! Once I realized this and reframed my perception of interactions with people, it helped a lot. (On preview, exactly what Ragged Richard said.) It does take practice and conscious effort. You will probably have to actively replay the sentence "People aren't judging me as much as I think they are" in your head, or whatever mantra works for you.

This is not to say I never worry about it any more. I'm still anxious. But most of the time I can stop and remind myself I'm probably overthinking things.

So, here are the ways I've made friends:

1) accept invitations from other people
2) extend invitations to others.

That's it. Really. Number one is important to remember because when you're socially anxious, it's easy to come up with reasons to reject invitations and then later on feel like the other person rejected you, adding to your inaccurate self perception of being unfriendable. Re: number two--yes, it can be hard to be the first to extend an invitation, but often the other person is really happy and relieved that someone is asking them. kbennett289's suggestion about asking people to study and then go for a drink afterward is a great one because studying together helps with academic success, but it also allows friendships to grow organically. I'd recommend doing this right away, while there are still lots of people who haven't made connections yet because they're new to the city and new to grad school.

I feel sad reading your post because it seemed full of reasons you think people wouldn't be interested in being friends with you. Maybe it would help you to make a list of reasons why people would want to be friends with you. I'm assuming you have some interesting characteristics or you wouldn't be over there going to grad school! Plus, you've bedn there a while so you are a local now, and you are more knowledgeable about the area than students who have just moved there. You know where to go for a good cup of coffee, or good quiet cafes for studying late at night.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:00 PM on April 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I forgot to say...I'm rooting for you, and I hope you meet some nice people and make some good friends!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:03 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Is it a big program, or just a handful of fellow students? If it's more than a handful of other people admitted with you, you might create a Facebook group (or a Google group, or something else) for folks in your incoming class if one doesn't exist yet. It could be a good way to increase your casual connections and foster people (not just you) extending invitations to different formal or informal get-togethers.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:28 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

yep! fb page and create a student event, like going bowling!
posted by TRUELOTUS at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2015

Some of this will be country/culturally specific. I am a (Korean) American who did a MA in Korean Studies in a Korean university and I was advised to not act "too cool for school" given that I was studying in a culture in which group identities and especially school affiliations are really important. Go to all school functions, even the ones that seem silly. If there's a study carrel, grad student lounge type area, ask for a desk, and use it. During bathroom breaks, offer to buy classmates a vending machine coffee. Randomly bring food to share. If you need help, be shameless in asking for it. My core classes were in Korean and at the time my Korean was subpar for an academic setting. I asked for a lot of help from my classmates. Vice versa, any classes in English (it was an international studies program over all) I was happy to provide summaries and notes on difficult texts.

Expat life can be really lonely. I had close family while I lived in Seoul and I still was often incredibly lonely. I think I found one of my closest friends by literally putting "drinking blog seoul" into the Google search bar because I wanted someone to get a beer with. (I left a comment on her blog). I found another close friend by going to a Fulbright scholar lecture series talk and meeting her over the after-event food and drink. I also tried language exchanges (not that fruitful, but still glad I tried them), volunteering for the women's film festival (no friends came of it, but I learned that I could be helpful even with my limited Korean at the time), etc.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:16 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are many of your classmates going to be working while in school? I ask since you mention your classes meet in the evenings. I'm currently finishing up a grad degree at night while working (more than) full time. Unfortunately, going out for dinner or drinks after class is really the last thing I want to do after a 12 or 13-hour day, no matter how cool I think my classmates are. I do totally appreciate when people are friendly, I just don't have the energy to make friends the way I did in undergrad.

However! I don't think it's cause for despair if some of your classmates are like me. I would still ask people to hang out, just don't take it personally if everyone isn't receptive. I have made friends with some classmates who I meet up with from time to time, just not usually right after class. And the full-time students in my definitely do seem to be friends outside of class hours. Good luck!
posted by ferret branca at 3:51 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @ferret branca

Yeah, I think that's the idea, like they want to accommodate students that work during the day so therefore classes are in the evening. TBH I have no clue about the composition of my specific program, but in general, I got the feeling at the new student orientation that it was a pretty mixed group of people who work and people who study full time. And you make an excellent point, RE: people who've been working all day might not necessarily want to go out right after class. Perhaps they might be more available on the weekend when they haven't been working (unless they also work during the weekend)?
posted by lana0112 at 4:07 PM on April 3, 2015

If it were me I would pick a Friday night, though obviously your classmates may vary. And definitely focus on getting to know some of your full time classmates through study groups and other suggestions people have made upthread. (And I agree with Ragged Richard: everyone is worried they're going to come across as stupid; don't let your classmates intimidate you. My more enjoyable conversations with classmates have been pretty laid back and not necessarily about academic things.)
posted by ferret branca at 4:20 PM on April 3, 2015

I would try to seek out the full time students, rather than being particularly hopeful about the full time workers. Doing grad school and working full time is a really busy combination. When I did it I did not have time for any new friends, given that I did already have existing friends, a husband, etc. Of course, this is not neccessarily the case for everyone, but I really would have (and in fact did) shut down prospective friendships because I just did not have time to start something new. Whereas, while I was a full time student I would have been much more open to that. So they are your best bet.
posted by jojobobo at 5:42 PM on April 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, I would try to cultivate some new hobbies. You say you don't have any, really, which is fine, but this sounds like the perfect time in your life to try to acquire some. Making friends is way way easier if you are doing it over an activity, rather than just relying on social skills to make a friendship blossom. Going out for coffee, 'cold', is probably the most challenging way to make new friends, I reckon. A shared activity gives you both something to do during the quiet moments, gives you something to talk about, and gives you a way to demonstrate your good qualities aside from your social skills on their own (you could be generous, or reliable, or thoughtful, or detail-oriented, etc. Things that don't stand out so much when you are just making chit chat).
posted by jojobobo at 5:45 PM on April 3, 2015

I was an expat graduate student, and I mainly met people through orientation activities and joining a couple postgrad student groups that interested me. Those were the places where I was in a position to follow hurdy gurdy girl's two step plan. I am introverted and had some issues with anxiety in grad school, but I was still able to make some great friends. Good luck!
posted by EvaDestruction at 6:35 AM on April 4, 2015

Do you live near school? If it's conveniently located and the timing works out, you could invite a few classmates over for dinner before class. I did that most weeks when I was in grad school I had an evening class. It helps that I like to cook, but it usually wasn't anything fancy -- just some pasta and garlic bread or whatever. But it was a nice way to spend time with them, sometimes talking about class or our readings but other times just hanging out, for someone who was very shy and far from home and the youngest person in the program. More than a decade later I'm still good friends with a couple of the folks who were regulars, even though we haven't lived in the same city for the vast majority of that time.
posted by katemonster at 3:53 PM on April 4, 2015

(Plus, everyone's gotta eat, so your classmates may welcome a chance to have a good meal in between work and class.)
posted by katemonster at 3:54 PM on April 4, 2015

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