Are you preparing to go to university?
You have no made your decision to go to university, and you want to prepare well to make a good start. You may be travelling a short distance to your chosen university, or you may be leaving your home country to come to the UK.
Your mind will be full of ideas anticipating how things will be when you arrive at university. At this time of Covid-19, there will be additional uncertainty as it is not possible to predict how things will unfold. Given the health concerns, there will be many changes in how the university organises teaching and other activities to maintain health and safety for its students and staff.
In the lead up to starting the academic year, you are likely to receive communications from your department letting you know of arrangements for the start of term. It will be a very different university experience from what you were anticipating before Covid-19. However, it does not mean that it will be a disappointing experience. It can be a rewarding experience, and all will depend on how you approach it.
Consider what your goals are, what matters to you. Like you, there will be other students who will also be wondering how to make connections with others. Once you arrive on campus, it is likely, that you will soon meet other students who will be in the same situation as you.
At first, if meeting new people feels a bit awkward, there may be a tendency to compare with our close friends and limit time getting to meet others. As challenging as this might be, it is essential to acknowledge these feelings. It is normal to feel apprehensive when surrounded by new people.
Establishing new relationships takes time, and while things are still fresh, you may be missing your friends back home. Fortunately, technology allows us to keep in contact with them to see what they are doing and share experiences.
How we communicate
Communications via digital devices are more accessible now as they allow us to communicate with family and friends via digital platforms such as Zoom, Facetime or Whatsapp. Technology makes it possible to maintain relationships despite long distances and different time zones.
Communicating via our digital devices can be very useful and essential to keeping in touch with people far away. Still, it can also prevent us from dedicating time to meeting new people.
The first few weeks in a new place tend to be very demanding of our energy resources. Our brain is busy processing a lot of information about the course, the environment and the people we are getting to know. Our brain needs time to process what you are learning and to adjust to our new circumstances.
Therefore, it is vital to have some quiet time, where we can have the opportunity to relax and recharge our batteries. Spending time alone does not mean that one is lonely. On the contrary, learning to be comfortable in our own company is necessary to focus on what matters to us, to understand ourselves and to regulate our emotions (Beer, 2008).
Making social connections
As social beings, we like to meet other people and feel that we have a sense of belonging. It is normal to feel some unease when meeting new people, particularly when in a new environment where everything is different. Give yourself credit for your efforts to contact others even if you feel nervous and self-conscious. Others might seem to be very friendly and at ease in social situations. However, some of your peers are likely having a similar experience, although it may not be apparent.
If you notice that when you make efforts to socialise, you find that you worry a lot and feel nervous, you can use some mindfulness techniques to relax your mind and give yourself some time to restore your energy (Kabat-Zinn, 2018).
You can look for opportunities to speak with other students. For example, when you are next in a lecture, ask the person sitting next to you about the topic that is being covered, or find out about what are their favourite activities. Or, when you are in a queue at the cafeteria, you can ask the student next to you about their favourite foods.
By focusing on day-to-day activities, you can engage others in conversation, and this can lead to further topics. Practising taking the initiative to speak with others daily will gradually turn into an everyday activity, while at the same time it will increase your self-confidence.
At first, you may notice that although you have met a few people, it still feels uncertain, and you may have a sense that it is too early to tell whether they will become friends. Perhaps you may be feeling a bit disappointed that things are not as you hoped.
Experiment with focusing on the future possibilities of meeting new people. Even if you feel uncomfortable, focus on the fact that everyone wants to establish meaningful social connections. Take the initiative to contact others anyway maintaining the view that others are likely to want to make new friends too. As you practise, notice how gradually it becomes less challenging, and that you are getting to know more people who can become friends.
Beer, J. (2008) “The importance of emotion-social cognition interactions for social functioning. Insights from the orbitofrontal cortex.” In Social Neuroscience. Integrating biological and psychological explanations of social behaviour. Eds. Harmon-Jones, E. & Winkielman, P. Chapter 2, pp30.
Fiske, S. (2010) “Social cognition: Making sense of others.” In Social Beings. Core motives in social psychology. (2nd Ed). Chapter 4, pp127-175. USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2018) Meditation Is not what you think. Mindfulness and why it is so important. London: Piatkus.
Neff, K. (2011) Self-compassion. The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: Harper Collins.