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Making friends at college by Anna H. '14

Lots of 'don't's and a couple of 'do's.

Saying that I was excited to go to college would be like saying that space is big. I couldn’t wait to start over – to create an entirely new lifestyle, independent of family and old friends, who were now one Atlantic Ocean away. I was ready for new streets, new faces, new classes and important life choices and extracurricular activities. I arrived on campus, signed up for every activity ever, and enjoyed rushing around from one commtment to the next. When classes began, I was fine: the academics were manageable, because I had seen much of the material in high school. One of my biggest failures, though, was in making friends – and now, looking back on the year, I can describe what happened pretty confidently. Here are some thoughts about making friends at college.

Don’t

It was sometime in the middle of October, fall semester of freshman year – and it had been one of those days.

I overslept, rushed to first period lecture without eating breakfast, nearly fell asleep in every lecture as a result, rushed from my last class to my first extracurricular activity of the day, rushed back to French House to eat dinner, crammed food down my throat without speaking a word to anyone (no time for words), rushed back out to my next extracurricular commitment, then rushed home at 8:30-9pm or so, to finally get some work done. I had a bunch of p-sets and exams to worry about, and this, combined with the stress from the rest of the week, was taking a toll on my sanity.

When I’m stressed, I need my friends. I need an ear, a shoulder, words – comfort. When I don’t have the energy to monitor what I say or do, I need familiarity.

At that moment, the novelty of college and MIT lost its charm. I was sick of seeing unfamiliar faces everywhere when I walked around campus. I wanted professors who had known me for years, like my teachers from high school. I wanted my old room-mate back (my sister), and the freedom to randomly call up a friend to chat, without worrying about whether this person would find my behavior forward or strange.

Solution to a stressful, unbearable week: phone a friend. I dragged myself to the lounge on my floor, found it deserted, and pulled out my phone. My fingers froze one millimeter from the keypad. Who could I call? My first instinct was to call a friend from London, but a combination of expense and time difference ruled that out. I had a couple of old friends who, like me, had crossed the ocean to attend university in the States – but they didn’t pick up. I panicked, and, with increasing nausea, realized that there was no one at MIT that I felt comfortable calling.

I sense some incredulity from you.

“Room-mate?” you ask.

Didn’t have one. Will probably never have one, since French House is made up almost entirely of singles.

“Dorm-mate?”

I honestly didn’t know any of them well enough. I was so busy that when I actually came back to the dorm, it was to sleep. Because of one commitment or another, I missed both our beginning-of-the-year bond-with-the-freshmen picnic, and our living group photo for the yearbook. While I’m sure any of them would have been happy to talk to me, I didn’t have the energy to fall apart in front of a near-stranger.

“Friends from CPW? From your pre-orientation program?”

=~ m/people I hadn’t seen in weeks/

(uh, sorry – too much Perl programming recently). I had fashioned my own new little MIT world, but had thrown so much energy into trying new things (every club, ever) that I neglected to maintain those friendships.

Horrifying: adjective. Describes: The realization that there was basically no one on campus who I would describe as a close friend.
On the academic front, first semester was not particularly challenging. Most of my classes had material I had seen in high school, so I invested almost all my energy in trying every activity I could slot into my calendar. Keeping busy keeps me sane and lively, but there’s no substitute for spending a couple of hours in another human being’s company, being silly and chatting about nothing. I don’t know you, reader, but I would venture to guess that this is or will be true for you, too: you only have so much energy. Sometimes, your energy is spent, and you need to be helped back to your feet or propped up. Your friends take care of you when you need them to, and you do the same for them.
Here at MIT, we hold each other up in a delicate but reliable balancing act: when you arrive, take up a place in it. Don’t do what I did, and figure that you’ll blaze around independently and craft your own little one-man structure – these don’t stand a chance against challenging classes and the shock of personal failure.
It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t realize any of this until late second semester, after I had gotten closer to my living group and other people from around campus. When I realized that I was struggling to make friends, early in the year, my first reaction was to blame the people I found myself surrounded with – they were, I told myself, “not my type of people”. I made the terrible mistake of assuming that this “type” even existed. My group of friends from London grew up together, and as a result we had a particular way of communicating and interacting, and I think that I came to MIT looking for a copy of that, because I wanted to find comfort and familiarity in college – but, of course, those things are created, and not found. The people I’m close to now have their own lovely eccentric personalities, and I don’t even know if they would get along with my friends from London – but that doesn’t matter.
Do
CPW

I made my first friend at MIT because I appreciate a good nerd joke.

It was the second night of CPW, I think, and I was dancing on the roof of Baker House when I suddenly noticed that the guy across from me had an awesome shirt. It said:

Recursion, noun. Def: see "recursion"

SCORE! A geeky reference I understood. I felt compelled to compliment the stranger on his excellent choice of attire.

Me: I like your shirt!
Guy: *dancing*
Me: HEY. I like your shirt. (it was loud up there)
Guy: *dancing*
Me: I. LIKE. YOUR. SHIRT. (like I said, it was loud up there)

He looked thrilled.

Guy: YAY! I love being in a place where people actually get that reference!

Over the next five hours, he taught me to play pool and we talked about all kinds of things that I no longer remember. More importantly, he had a seemingly-endless supply of ridiculously delicious throat lozenges (I had tonsillitis at the time.) which automatically made him my best friend ever. After CPW, we went our separate ways, but kept in touch – and Sam B. ’14 remains, over a year later, one of my best friends here at the ‘tvte.

Pre-orientation

I spent my pre-orientation program (FUP: the Freshman Urban Program) on crutches. Unfortunately, it rained for approximately 70% of the time, and it’s hard to hold up an umbrella when your arms are busy transporting the rest of your body around the place. I found out how kind people can be, though – the strangers in my group took turns walking extra slowly and following me around with an umbrella, and everyone had an amazing amount of patience with me. Being on crutches and slowing down the group is a horrible feeling, but less so when everyone remains cheerful and understanding. When classes started in the fall, it made a tremendous difference to walk into a gigantic lecture hall and be able to pick out the familiar faces of fellow FUPers.

Orientation

During the “hey, old bloggers – come and meet the new freshman bloggers” event, Cam T. offered to drive me to Ikea when it emerged that all I had brought to campus was one medium-sized suitcase and one backpack (it’s tough living overseas, okay?).

My first thought: WOAH. IT’S CAM T. THE BLOGGER. IN THE FLESH.
My second thought: I feel weird going to Ikea in a fancy dress (it was the last day of sorority recruitment, so I was all dressed up)
My third thought: Well…I really need to go to Ikea.

So, I went – and had an awesome time. Cam is one of the few people I know who can make an adventure out of an Ikea trip – and, like Sam, is still one of my best friends here on campus.

French House

I got a lot of comments from my dorm-mates first semester, about the fact that I was never around. “We miss you!” they said. “You should come home more often!” I remember walking into the kitchen for dinner late, one day, and being totally taken-aback by the chorus of “ANNAAA!”‘s. They were always happy to see me, even though they didn’t know me, and I don’t think I can express how much I appreciated that.

Apparently, a few of them thought that I was going to move out, because I was around so rarely. I admit that I considered it. I felt like I was living with strangers, and assumed, like I mentioned before, that it was because they were “not my type” – but it was because I didn’t have the patience, in my hectic first semester, to stick my definition of “type” in the trash, where it belonged. Once I got to know them, there was never the chance that I was going to leave. They’ve been the whole package for me: friends, teachers, siblings, counselors. They take care of me, and I try to do the same.

Summer

It’s summer. I’m living in MacGregor, with five other French House-ers. We’ve been to Six Flags, to the beach, to a rock concert; we’ve gone out to fancy dinners, consumed outrageous and terrifying amounts of bubble tea, and celebrated birthdays; we’ve played rock band and kicked butt at Taekwondo. We’ve talked for hours and watched the sun rise (hi Daniel!)

MacGregor is also filled with people I’ve never met before. I went to the Cambridge dance party with four people I met that day. Two people from my floor came to the rescue when I locked myself out of my room while taking a shower.

One day, the French House crew were going out to dim sum for lunch – and while assembling in the lobby, I saw a guy walking past who I recognized from 8.022 recitation. “HEY!” I called out, impulsively. He said hi, and I asked if he wanted to join us for dim sum. He said sure, and now we spend almost all our time with him.

Summer is perfect for meeting new people – for once, you’re not living with the usual crew. Take advantage of it. Invite someone to lunch with your friends. Knock on your neighbor’s door and introduce yourself. Be brave.

Don’t forget

If you don’t make time for other people, you will struggle to make friends. If you filter everyone you meet by how closely they resemble your friends from home, you will struggle to make friends. It’s okay to go crazy and become super busy (most people here do), and it’s okay to miss your old friends – you will miss your old friends – but when you come to college and create your new lifestyle and your new little college world, don’t forget to open it up to everyone you meet, and take the time to get to know them. Hop in a new acquaintance’s car for an Ikea trip. Stay up all night talking. Stay in touch with that random guy you met in the gym (hi Aaron!) You meet people in a huge variety of contexts – give them all a chance.

Thank you

This post is as much about reflecting on my own mistakes and successes as it is about thanking the friends who helped me through them – friends from home, who have remained my best friends across thousands of miles; French House, who, despite my AWOL behavior throughout first semester, stuck with me and helped me create a home and comfort zone on campus; Sam and Cam and FUP friends and everyone I’ve ever met, because I can honestly say that I haven’t met a single person here that I regretted getting to know better. You guys are the best.

15 responses to “Making friends at college”

  1. COOKS says:

    Thanks a lot Anna. I was a waste at making friends but am working on it. This is a great addition.

  2. D says:

    First:) A wise person once said, “Shared joy is double joy and shared sorrow is half sorrow”.

    Contactable at all times

  3. D says:

    Ooops…..Second

  4. kk says:

    Excellent post and so true. I feel like that happened to me during CPW. I already knew a good amount of people that were going, so I spent most of my time with them and I didn’t feel particularly happy- not because I didn’t like them, but because I hadn’t branched out at all or explored. I’m not going to make that mistake again smile

  5. Tia says:

    Great post :D it makes me eager to go to collegeee… Your advice is definitely helpful and I love your humor xD

  6. Rachel F. '12 says:

    great post smile

  7. Sumin says:

    LMF <3 ANNA! Great post smile

  8. ~Prachi~ says:

    Hey! I am still in high school…nd aspiring for admission to MIT…love ur post:) cant wait to get in! nd m definitely going to following ur advice…thnx! smile

  9. Anissa says:

    lovely heartfelt post…

    but on a very small pedantic note, ‘horrifying’ is an adjective (it describes something) wink

  10. ~Micah~ says:

    Thank you for this advice! I hope to make plenty of friends when I get to MIT (and I’m happy to say that I have made friends during CPW as well. :D). Hey, maybe we’ll meet one day randomly on campus and become friends as well!

  11. Marsya says:

    Interesting article and thank you for the advice. University is indeed different than high school. I do worry sometimes if I’m going to have problems making friends on campus. But it seems that you got over it and it gives me confidence.

  12. Anna H. '14 says:

    @Anissa: AHHH! How embarrassing. Thanks for pointing that out; all fixed now.
    @Micah: I hope so! smile

  13. Keith says:

    You can randomly call me to chat haha

  14. ???? says:

    Can you be close friends(like only friends) with people completely different from your own profession, career-interest etc. You know like Scientists have scientist friends and Wrestlers have wrestler friends but at sometime in their life they were in same school, one goes on to become a scientist & other becomes a wrestler but because they were best buddies sometime in school can they still continue to be friends?? because now their life is completely different. ??

  15. Anna H. '14 says:

    @Keith: haha, thanks.
    @????: You definitely can! At MIT, a number of your friends will probably have similar interests (you’ll meet them in your classes, and your extracurricular activities) but you’ll also make close friends at CPW and orientation and within your living group who want to do something completely different with their lives than you do. And it’ll be great, because you can learn from each other smile