When we leave home for university, all that is familiar and normal to us is thrown on its head, including the friends and family that we have been happy and safe surrounding ourselves with. Ask anyone about to start their degree what they are worried about and one of the top answers will be meeting new people and making new friends.
The reason for this is that the amygdala, the part of brain involved with the experiencing of emotions, likes familiarity. It links the unfamiliar with danger and often responds to it with fear and anxiety, explaining why meeting new people can sometimes make our stomachs turn or our chests go tight. These are perfectly normal reactions and are part of our make-up as humans, designed to protect us!
Familiarity keeps the amygdala happy: it makes us feel safe and comfortable and what this means for starting university is that some of the stress and anxiety of moving to a new place can be reduced by having a few familiar faces waiting for you! Here are some things you can do to get some student allies before you leave home:
Facebook groups will be popping up all over the internet to help students start connecting before term starts. Look out for groups for your course, your accommodation or halls of residence and your student union. Introduce yourself online and get to know who you’ll be living with or who will be on your course before
you arrive. Even if you don’t connect with everyone online you’ll be able to recognize people from the group when you’re out and that can make a great conversation starter!
Tap into the six degrees of separation
The world is a small place and it may be that a friend of a friend or a distant family member lives where you are going. Getting in touch with them and making their acquaintance can help. Even if you don’t end up hanging out with them, just knowing that there’s someone you have a connection with and can meet up with if need be, can be make a difference to the amygdala!
Find out if someone local is going to the same university as you
Is anyone from your sixth form or college going to your university? Even if you’re not really that close in your home town knowing that you both made the same choice of university and might even be living in the same halls can be comforting. They could be someone to hang around with at the start, you can introduce each other to your flatmates and there’s also that shared experience of coming from the same city. On the flipside, if you don’t really like them that much, don’t feel forced to form a friendship – there will be plenty of opportunity to make new friends!
Peer to peer mentoring is becoming increasingly common at universities and being able to talk to a second or third year student who knows the university and what you’ll be going through can be a big help. It may be that you can be partnered with a student before you start (especially if you’re an international student) giving you a head start on things when you arrive. Have a look on your university website to see what’s available
As you can see it’s natural that meeting new people can leave us feeling a bit uncomfortable. If you’ve already met online or have a shared association, however, that familiarity will help – take at least one step to get to know people now to keep your amygdala happy so that starting uni is that little bit less stressful!
Not making the effort to meet new people while at university, particularly in the first few weeks of term, can have a negative impact on how a student gets on during their degree. It’s a mistake to be avoided! Sign up for our free guide to other common student mistakes and how to avoid them here and find out what you can do to have a happier and more successful time as a student! 🙂