Q&A: How to Find Your Tribe and Make Friends At University

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Don’t suppose you have any wisdom to pass down now that you’re on the other side? I’m off to university this September – I’m ridiculously excited but oh-so-nervous. I’m way more of a read-a-book, movie-on-the-couch, pizza-night-in kind of girl than an out-all-night-clubbing one. I’m scared everyone will think I’m boring and lame.       –Ruby

I can totally relate to this question. In the months before I left for university, I was terrified. I was worried about finding “my people”: people who would understand me and who I could just be myself around. I was equally worried, like Ruby, that people would think my interests made me boring and lame.

I’m happy to report that I found a small group of people with whom I can have deep conversations, laugh until I cry, and who make me feel truly accepted for who I am. And I have a not-so-secret secret for you: you will too. It might not happen right away, but eventually you will find your tribe. I want to share with you what I’ve learned about this process.

Figure out where you get your energy.

My first piece of advice is to figure out whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. A free, easy way to do this is to take a Myers-Briggs type test. Knowing which type you are will help you determine your own social needs and style of interacting with others and it may also help you avoid some of the mental drama that comes with feeling like you’re “different”, “boring” or “lame”.

I’m an introvert. As a general rule, introverts need time alone to recharge their energy levels, whereas extroverts get their energy through interacting with other people (learn more here). Being introverted does not mean you don’t like spending time with other people. It simply means that (in general), you will need less social interaction than extroverts do, and more time alone. Knowing this up front can make your transition into university a lot easier, since universities (especially university residences) are environments more suited to extroverts. When I went away to university I didn’t realize I was introverted, so I didn’t respect my own needs and I burned myself out trying to do everything and interact with people all the time.

Know your needs.

Once you know which type you are, you can more easily figure out what your social needs are. Obviously you will naturally veer towards certain types of friendships and levels of social interaction, but again, trying to figure out your needs can be reassuring and can help you sidestep mental drama. Ask yourself questions like: Do you want a large group of people you can call if you need to vent or are you happier with just two close friends? What does your ideal Friday night look like? 

Finding the answers to these kinds of questions often involves trial and error, but having even some idea of what you want or need can help you direct your friend-finding energies more efficiently. It’s also important not to be ashamed or feel guilty about what your own personal needs really are.

Beware of your assumptions.

Notice how I keep mentioning mental drama? That’s because I consider it a huge part of what makes the first year at university so difficult for so many of us. I define mental drama as the pain, self-judgment and guilt that can come up for us when we realize that our likes, dislikes, habits and personalities might fall outside of what’s considered “normal” for people our age.

Please know that normal is a myth. What’s considered “normal” isn’t in any way wrong or bad, but just know that it does not apply to all people, or even to most people. We’re told that most “normal” university-age kids are constantly partying, drinking, having casual sex, staying up til 3AM, and doing drugs. Some are, and some aren’t. Some do some of the above, sometimes, and a lot of people have wildly different interests than those listed above. University is typically much bigger than high school, so there is usually more room for variety and diversity. The point is, you aren’t alone, whoever you are or whatever you choose to do. You might be in a minority, and it might take you longer to find your tribe, but I promise, you’re not alone. The most important thing is to not be ashamed of who you are and what you like.

It’s also important to remember: everyone just wants to fit in, and sometimes people go along with what they think is the status quo just to try and be accepted by others. So while sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one who thinks that a pub crawl starting at 9AM on a Wednesday is a bad idea, if you don’t go along with it, you’ll probably find there are a bunch of others extremely relieved to find out that they weren’t the only ones to think so either. Those just might be your people.

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Push your own boundaries. 

Ha! I tricked you. I told you to figure out who you are and what you want, and now I’m going to tell you that you should ignore that knowledge (or at least push it to the back of your mind) and try new things, get outside of your comfort zone, and hang out with people you don’t think are your “type”.

The reason I recommend this course of action is because when we head off to university, we’re usually still young. We know a lot of things about ourselves, but we don’t know everything. My favourite writer, Cheryl Strayed, says this better than me:

You are so goddamned young. Which means that about eight of the ten things you have decided about yourself will over time prove to be false. The other two things will prove to be so true that you’ll look back in twenty years and howl. 

So try things that don’t necessarily feel totally natural. You think you’re more of a “pizza-night-in” kind of person, and you probably are, but sometimes we label ourselves because we’re too scared to try new things. Of course I don’t recommend living your life just trying to fit in or be “normal”, but it’s also very important to question your fears and your own beliefs about yourself. University is a great time to experiment and re-invent ourselves. And we can define ourselves as a multitude of things! We can be book nerds who sometimes love going out dancing, for example. We get to write the rules about how we live our lives. So yes, absolutely be true to yourself, but first do a little exploring to figure out exactly who that self really is.

Follow your interests. 

The very best way (the only way, really) to find your tribe is to be yourself. Express your true opinions, spend your time the way you really like, do the activities that make you most happy, listen to the music you actually enjoy, and go to the events that fire you up. Be your introverted or extroverted self. This is the best, easiest way to find like-minded people who you will actually click with. It seems simple and cliché, but it’s really and truly the truth.

A great way to do this is to join clubs or groups that share your passions and interests. That way, you get to meet up with a group of people on a regular basis, some of whom you’re bound to connect with and want to spend more time with. And if not, there’s nothing stopping you from dropping out and joining a different club. Disclaimer: I was really afraid of joining things my first year of university, so I understand how hard it can be to make yourself go to these events and put yourself out there. But I also know now how rewarding it can be. 

Be the initiator.

If you’re introverted, it might feel unnatural for you to step into this role, and it may cause you some anxiety, but I think it’s very important to fake it til you make it, and sometimes pretend to be more outgoing than you really are. Reach out to people! Get their numbers and ask them on a study date, or invite them along to plans you have with another friend of yours. Plan the events you want to go to, and invite people that you think might share your interests. If that event is a make-your-own-pizza party, then you and I are kindred spirits, and there are more like us out there, I promise!

***

If I had to condense this very long article into two lines it would be these:

  1. You’re not boring or lame. There are some wonderful people out there that want to hang out with you and who like to do the things you like to do.
  2. Be yourself, life has a way of hooking you up with the people you need most.

I am very well aware that might not be the advice you wanted to hear, but I’m afraid there’s no magic bullet. Just be brave, be yourself, try your best, and have fun. Best of luck!

If you have any more questions on this or any other topic, let me know in the comments. And if you have anything else to add to answer Ruby’s question, please leave a comment as well.

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