Who are you? It’s a question, in one form or another, you’re going to become accustomed to answering on the daily. You’ll be talking to a peer in one of your classes, and they’ll ask, “What are you thinking of majoring in?” You’ll be attending a virtual trivia or movie night and someone will say, “Tell me about yourself.” Surely, your First-Year Mentor (FYM) may have asked you, “What’s a random fact about you?” I should know — it’s something I asked my mentees during our first meeting.
Speaking from my own experience, having these introductory conversations as a first-year student can feel crucial. I get it — making friends in a new setting is hard, and making good friends can be even harder. And what about finding your people, the ones that seemingly feel like they were destined to become your friend?
For most, that’s the end goal. You want to find those people you click with, the ones that put up with you blathering on about Jane Austen adaptations, the ones that don’t bat an eye at the fact that you carry a tarot deck with you everywhere you go, the ones that… well, you get what I mean. If you’re like me, you’re looking for the people that will support and challenge you all at the same time.
Given the University’s transition to online-only classes this semester, I know that the task of building new relationships may feel even more daunting. Here’s a few pieces of advice to find, build and maintain friendships as you join our community.
To be entirely honest, I think the phrase “be yourself” is trite, overused and meaningless at this point. Instead, I’ve made up my own phrase — embody yourself. The key here is action. Actively take steps to live your life in accordance with your own values. Make choices that are in line with who you are. Draw boundaries, both physical and emotional. When you live in a way that doesn’t betray who you are and what you want, you can devote more energy to other facets of your life.
While I’ve never been the person who did things just to look better in the eyes of others, I’m guilty of watering down my personality and not acting like myself for much of my first semester. While I didn’t do this on purpose, it was emotionally and energetically taxing. I did meet and become friends with individuals who remain among my closest friends, but I was preventing myself from authentically connecting with these people. Once I started making active choices to do what I wanted to do, my relationships started to become more rich and meaningful.
Engage with your interests.
Students at Hopkins are deeply passionate about their interests, whether those are their major, their hobbies or just something random they find joy in. Reach out to people in your major. Study via Zoom with peers from your classes. Join a club. There are so many student organizations on campus that you’ll be able to find one that caters to one of your interests. I recommend joining one, or more!
Not only will you find yourself surrounded by plenty of individuals that share similar interests and hobbies with you, but it will take some of the pressure off finding friends. You can focus on whatever the student organization is focused on, and by virtue of working toward shared goals and principles, it’s likely you’ll naturally become closer with other members of the group. The student organizations that I’m a part of have introduced me to wonderful people I may have never met otherwise.
Keep in contact with old friends.
Staying in touch with friends from your high school, summer camp or prior extracurriculars is important! These people can help smooth out the transition into a new environment and can be a good place to fall back on when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I can sometimes get overwhelmed with a sudden onslaught of new faces, so having a few familiar ones by my side (whether through text or, yes, even Zoom) has helped bolster my courage.
These people can (and hopefully will!) still be an important part of your life. My best friends from high school are still my ride-or-die’s, and they’ve helped support me through times when I wasn’t feeling like myself or was having difficulty with my social life. Also, I’ve found them to be extremely helpful anchors. Not only do they ground me, but they help me realize what I’m looking for in new friendships. Of course, I don’t recommend you look for the carbon copies of friends you already have, but by noticing qualities in pre-existing friendships, you’ll be more likely to know when a particular connection is good for you.
Be kind to yourself.
At the end of the day, developing relationships isn’t a linear process; there will be days when you feel close to people and others where you may feel a little more distant. Remember to devote some emotional energy to yourself (those all too important emotional barriers!) and continue to treat yourself with compassion. If a particular friendship didn’t pan out the way you expected or wanted it to, if everything is taking a little longer than you expected, remember that isn’t a reflection on yourself.
Connecting to people through online means can be difficult. For many, it will be the first time they’ll be having to make connections online. Friendships may develop slower online than they would in person. You may just not feel as comfortable as you would have been reaching out to people in person. None of these things are failures on your part. You are good enough. You simply are.