When I think back to my first day of university, I remember worrying about knowing my class schedule, finding my classrooms, and whether or not orientation week activities were mandatory. Though I knew some professors, I didn’t know anyone my age, and as a bit of an extreme introvert, I felt drained at the prospect of interacting with large groups of my peers. Furthermore, my shyness made me feel intimidated at having to introduce myself to so many people, possibly many times. So, instead of orientation week games, I focused on my strength: being a “good student.” I started reading my textbooks and familiarizing myself with campus. It’s funny to think about how paranoid I was over missing a class accidentally or, even worse, arriving late!
Fortunately, the small size of my computer science program allowed me to more easily make friends with my classmates—I couldn’t avoid them! Our common interest in software development helped me to connect, and through these classmates I ended up connecting to others. Nevertheless, I now regret how much I neglected my social life in order to read textbooks and perfect my assignments.
You see, although I was a study-aholic, by second year I had shed some of my shyness, as I slowly got acquainted with other students. I began seeking out different small groups of friends and acquaintances. I came to realize that I enjoyed listening in to various conversations because these helped me take a mental break from my studies. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I have social needs and these were met (somewhat) through my participation in these social spaces—even if I was only a quietly engaged presence. Still, I spent most of my time by myself, trying to get away from the “noise” of other people intruding on my studies. It wasn’t a healthy way to think of others.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I have social needs.
So, what could I have done differently to become more socially connected and develop deeper friendships? Mostly I would have benefited from learning from my third-year self! Here’s what I discovered in third-year, and beyond:
- There are others that share the same passions and interests, so why not befriend them? For example, I enjoy playing board and card games, so when I found out that one of my classmates was entering the student-run euchre tournament, I asked if we could be partners. He said yes and we ended up winning the competition, further solidifying our new-found friendship!
- Spending time with others over a meal deepens relationships. For instance, I made new friends over dinner with my classmate’s dorm-mates.
- Be spontaneous! While my natural desire for order was helpful for studying, it made me a bit stiff when it came to friendships. Fortunately, I loosened up and made some great memories by occasionally playing computer games with friends in the computer science lab, and by quizzing classmates on course material prior to midterms and finals (instead of just studying by myself).
- Choose your spaces wisely and set your expectations accordingly. For example, the computer science lab was sometimes a place where fun happened, so if I really needed to finish an assignment, it was wise for me to plan ahead and work at home or in the library. On the flip side, the lab wasn’t always a great place to relax and unwind—for that I would head over to the commuter student lounge.
- Join others in making a difference. Here I’m thinking about causes and initiatives. For instance, I connected with others through helping write letters for Amnesty International to help free those unjustly imprisoned in other countries. Not only did I connect better with my friends through this, but it also felt great to help others I didn’t know personally, connecting with the broader community of humanity.
- Open up and share your own struggles and joys. OK, admittedly I didn’t really learn this well until I connected with Power to Change as a graduate student. (Though I awkwardly opened up my life to those of the opposite sex on occasion.) Still, I would be remiss to mention this really important tip. As I shared vulnerably in times of prayer and Bible study, others shared vulnerably too and we grew in trust and depth of friendship. Please don’t miss out on this opportunity!
So, where am I now? I entered university as a bona fide 9 out of 10 introvert (according to my Myers-Briggs test results from that time). I lived out of that strength academically, but missed out socially. Thankfully, the Lord taught me the value of positive social interactions over my four-year stint as an undergraduate student. So, if you feel like you are a somewhat extreme introvert, please don’t forget your social needs!