Settling in to university
Being shy is not an inherited personality trait, so even if you have been shy at school, going to university can be an opportunity to change this. Growing up with the same set of friends sometimes means that the way people see you, and you see yourself, can get a bit fixed. If you have always been seen as the shy one, leaving familiar people behind and mixing with those who have no prior knowledge of you can be quite liberating; you can re-invent yourself, try out what it would be like to be more chatty, take risks to strike up conversations, or be the one who suggests a night out.
You need to be patient when you first get to university. Close friendships don’t happen in a couple of days or weeks, they take months or years. Think about the friends you have at home and how long you have known them. What experiences have you had together? How much have you learned about each other? Becoming close to someone involves spending time with them, talking about things and doing things together, learning to trust one another and this evolves, you can’t force it to happen overnight.
A good strategy is to cast your net as widely as you can. Even at a smallish university you have a pool of maybe 5000 potential friends. Of course you can’t have that many real friends, but assume that 10% of these could be people you would like to get to know better, that’s 500 people. And let’s say out of these maybe 10% are compatible enough to become close friends that’s 50 people. Your challenge over the next 3 years or so is to find these people, and to do that you need to open yourself up to opportunities for your paths to cross and chance conversations to happen.
How to start to make friends – Many students, when they first go to university complain about having the same conversation over and over and that they are bored with it and long to have something more meaningful. I agree small talk can be quite tedious, but it is a necessary social skill and it has to happen as the first stage in filtering out potential friends and finding common ground. During small talk we are exchanging all kinds of information about ourselves, not just factual information about home, family, subject choice etc, but information about the kind of person we are. Without even trying to, we are assessing whether this person is interested in us, whether they share our values, our humour; are they a good listener, do we feel comfortable with them? Once we have had the first conversation we don’t need to do it again with that person. Next time, if you didn’t feel a good connection you might keep it brief and move on. But if you both liked each other during the small talk bit, the conversation can move on to something a little more personal, interests, favourite music, food, relationships, then maybe one of you will suggest meeting for coffee, or going to the library after the lecture. This is how we socialise as humans. At school we are pushed together by adults so it takes less work, but at university you are in the driving seat and this can be both exciting and scary at the same time! When confronted with change we go through a process of gradually adapting, it doesn’t happen overnight.
Being shy when you start university at 18 or 19 does not mean that’s how you will always be. Many confident, outgoing adults were once shy and inhibited young people. University life offers many challenges and opportunities for you to grow and change. All students believe that everyone else is doing better than they are, are more confident, academically capable and socially skilled, but scratch the surface and you will find that many share the same anxieties. Confidence comes about by the accumulation of experiences where you face situations outside of your comfort zone and survive them.