- Explain the benefits of social interactions with a variety of people in the college environment.
- List personal characteristics and skills that contribute to one’s ability to get along well with others.
- Improve your communication skills.
- Use online social networking beneficially.
- Balance your social life with your schoolwork.
- Describe how to successfully resolve a conflict with another person.
Humans are social creatures—it’s simply in our nature. We continually interact with other students and instructors, and we can learn a great deal from these interactions that heighten the learning process. This frequent interaction with others forms a state of interdependence. College students depend on their instructors, but just as importantly, they depend on other students in many ways.
As important as our interactions with others are, we do not automatically possess the skills that help us form good relationships and make the most of our experiences. Consider how these two college students are different:
John often arrives just as class is beginning and leaves immediately afterward. He makes little effort to talk with other students in the classroom, and after class he goes off to study alone or to his part-time job, where he spends most of his time at a computer screen. He is diligent in his studies and generally does well. After two months, he has not gotten to know his roommate very well, and he generally eats alone with a book in hand. He stops by to see his instructors in their offices only if he missed a class due to illness, and on weekends and holidays he often hangs out at his parents’ house or sees old friends.
Kim likes to get to class early and sits near others so they can talk about the reading for class or compare notes about assignments. She enjoys running into other students she knows from her classes and usually stops to chat. Although she is an older working student who lives alone off campus, she often dines in a campus café and asks students she meets in her classes to join her. After two months, with the approach of midterms, she formed a study group with a couple other students. If she feels she doesn’t understand an important lecture topic very well, she gets to her instructor’s office a few minutes ahead of office hours to avoid missing out by having to wait in line. A few weeks into the term, she spent a weekend with a student from another country and learned much about a culture about which she had previously known little.
These students are very different. Which do you think is more fully enjoying the college experience? Which do you think is more likely to do well academically? Most of us fall somewhere between these two extremes, but we can learn to be more like Kim and more actively engage with others.
Recognize the Value of Social Interaction
Building good relationships is important for happiness and a successful college experience. College offers the opportunity to meet many people you would likely not meet otherwise in life. Make the most of this opportunity to gain a number of benefits:
- A growing understanding of diverse other people, how they think, and what they feel that will serve you well throughout your life and in your future career
- A heightened sense of your own identity, especially as you interact with others with different personalities and from different backgrounds
- Emotional comfort from friendship with someone who understands you and with whom you can talk about your problems, joys, hopes, and fears
- An opportunity to grow with wider intellectual and emotional horizons
College often offers an opportunity to be stimulated and excited by new relationships and interactions with people who will challenge your thinking and help you become your best. Still, it can be difficult to get started with new relationships in college.
Making New Friends
Some people just make friends naturally, but many first-year college students are more shy or quiet and may need to actively seek new friends. Here are some starting points:
- Keep all doors open for meeting new people. If you live in a dorm, literally keep the door open. Try to sit with different people at meals so you can get to know them better. Study in a common area or lounge where you’ll be among others.
- Be open in your interests. Don’t limit yourself to people who share only certain interests. Meeting people by studying together is an excellent way to get to know people with different interests.
- Don’t try to get involved in everything going on around you. Committing to too many activities or joining too many social groups will spread your time too thin, and you may not spend enough time with anyone to get to know them.
- Let others see who you really are. Let people get to know the things you’re interested in, your real passions. People who really know you are more likely to become good friends.
- Make an effort to get to know others, too. Show some interest. Don’t talk just about your interests—ask them about theirs. Show others that you’re interested, that you think they’re worth spending time with, and that you really do want to get to know them.
- Once a friendship has started, be a good friend. Respect your friends for what they are and don’t criticize them or talk about them behind their back. Give emotional support when your friends need it and accept their support as well when you need it.
Are You Shy?
If you’re shy, try meeting and talking to people in situations where you can interact one-to-one, such as talking with another student after class. Start with what you have in common—“How’d you do on the test?”—and let the conversation grow from there. Avoid the emotional trap of thinking everyone but you is making new friends and start some conversations with others who look interesting to you. You’ll soon find other “shy” or quiet people eager to interact with you as well and get to know you.
Shy people may be more likely to feel lonely at times, especially while still feeling new at college. Loneliness is usually a temporary emotional state, however. For tips for how to overcome feelings of loneliness, see the section on loneliness in Chapter 10 “Taking Control of Your Health”, Section 10.6 “Emotional Health and Happiness”.