Whether your are entering your first year or returning for your last, the beginning of the semester is always an exciting and busy time. There are dozens of different things on your mind, and making new friends is probably one of them. We've seen the movies with images of university as the setting to make life-long friends.
And guess what? You can make those friends!
But (yup, there’s a but), you have to put energy and effort into this. Making friends in university may not be as easy as it was in high school -- where you saw many of the same people for six hours every day. Building friendships in university means being a bit more vulnerable and putting yourself out there.
Why is it important to talk about making friends and being connected with others?
We know from the National College Health Assessment, completed by students in 2013 at the University of Alberta, that 62.5% of respondents felt very lonely in the past 12 months. That’s a lot of people on our university campus feeling lonely.
Loneliness is a feeling we experience from being socially isolated, and loneliness can lead to a multitude of other emotional and mental health concerns. Making friends and being connected are important for the obvious reasons: to have fun and have someone to talk to and hang out with. But the deeper reason is that having social connections keeps us healthy. By being healthy and building your support network, you will not only feel balanced, but also be a more focused and successful student.
Just say "hi."
Sometimes it’s this very first step that is the hardest. We feel embarrassed and think others are going to judge or reject us, but what we have to overcome is our own fear. After you say "hi", introduce yourself. People might be thrown off at first, but just stay confident. We also encourage you to befriend at least one person in each class you have. This will help if you are sick and need class notes or need someone to study with, and it's a good way to start building friendships on campus!
Always remember: there are lots of people feeling the same way as you.
Join a student group, intramural team or find a way to get involved.
Follow what you are passionate about and you’ll find others who are passionate about it, too. This will likely make for more meaningful friendships. (With more than 400 student groups on campus, I’m sure one will spark your interest!)
Making friends is the first step to building those life-long friendships. The second part is keeping yourself and your friends healthy by knowing how to take care of one another. We can't just stop at hello.
If you need help, talk to your friends.
Much like saying hi to people, asking our friends for help can be very challenging. Feelings of shame, embarrassment, and fear are all absolutely understandable. We just want to encourage you to talk to your friends about stuff that is going on with you. It feels much better to get things off your chest, knowing that you don't have to deal with something alone. Your friends may not know exactly how to help you, and that’s okay.
If you are needing more help than your friends can provide, make sure you check out all the resources the U of A has to offer at www.uofa.ualberta.ca/current-students. There are lots of resources and lots of people here on campus who would like to help.
If your friend needs help, refer them to a campus resource.
It’s important that you take time to really listen to your friends. From a place of concern, yet you need to remain non-judgmental. Check out the student services on the university campus and see which resource is best for your friend. If you’re feeling lost and don’t know what resource you need, give us a call or contact any of the other services and explain what you need help with.
If you are looking to develop your skills in helping your peers, check out our Community Helpers training program.