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The Introvert's Guide to Surviving College Welcome Week
When I got my welcome week packet when I was starting my freshman year of college, I almost had a panic attack. As much as I like hanging out with friends, it's hard for me to meet new people. Don't get me wrong, meeting people with similar interests is a lot of fun. But being thrust into a gigantic party where I don't know anyone really freaks me out and exhausts me. And that is largely because I am an introvert.
What Does "Introvert" Mean?
Believe it or not, introverts are not necessarily socially awkward. Nor are they shy or antisocial. In fact, a lot of introverts love to go to parties and big celebrations. They just prefer to not stay as long.
Introverts are people who get their energy from being by themselves. Unlike extroverts who feel more energetic and happy with people, introverts find social situations exhausting and stressful. Their brains tend to process everything a lot faster, which can flood their senses and cause anxiety and fatigue in stimulating situations.
Where introverts are more comfortable:
- small gatherings of friends
- events that don't require small talk but may have conversations about life and things of interest
- events or activities relevant to their interest
Where they can feel out of place or nervous:
- large gatherings
- places where small talk is required
- new places
Myths About Introverts
There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts that aren't true. This leads to well-meaning but unhelpful comments like "put yourself out there" and "You don't have to be shy. Just spend some time with people. They won't bite". My favorite is: "It's okay. College is the perfect time to change."
Common myths about introverts are they:
- suffering from depression or anxiety
- low self-esteem
- inferior to extroverts
While there are plenty of introverts who are probably a lot of these things, it's not true that all introverts are like this. It's perfectly healthy to want to spend time alone and introverts are often adept with social skills, confident, and not at all shy. If they seem tired or snobby, it's probably because being around people is exhausting and they just want to be alone for a little bit of time. It doesn't mean they hate you, though.
One of the most damaging myths is that introverts are inferior to extroverts and they should change. This is just not true. Both are equal and it's impossible to change. But myths like these often cause depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. Forcing introverts to "become" extroverts by putting them into uncomfortable social situations and thinking it's helpful to them is like forcing a leftie to become right-handed and then being surprised when they develop a stutter.
Surviving Welcome Week
This is a time for ice breakers, block parties, scavenger races and school sponsored outings to bowling alleys and the like. These are all great events to have, but attending all of these events just exhausts introverts and probably makes them hate life. However, like everyone else, they also need to make friends. Here's how to do it.
Be Friendly If someone talks to you, for whatever reason, smile and be as upbeat as possible, even if you just want to be left alone. Even if you don't want to make friends at the moment, it's important to not burn bridges for later.
Make Time For Yourself This is really important. It's busy and chaotic during Welcome Week and a lot of the activities are mandatory, especially if they combine Welcome Week with orientation. You might have a class prep event to go to or a drugs and alcohol information session. But don't go to ones that are optional if you don't want to. As much as you need to make friends, forcing yourself to spend time with crowds will do nothing. At my college we actually had a night at Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes that was dubbed the Event of the Week. It featured food, live music, dancing, bowling, and arcade games. If I had my boyfriend with me or a very close friend, it would be fun. But I didn't really know anyone that well and after two full days of making my resting bitch face a friendly smile and making small talk, all I wanted to do was stay back and read with a cup of tea and Nutella toast. My family and my boyfriend all thought I should go and that it would be good for me. But I decided not to and I did just what I wanted to. This recharged me and helped me out a lot. Because I didn't go, I was able to settle in to my dorm room better and I explored my building and found the kitchen and laundry room. I woke up with a lot more energy and a much better opinion on life than I would have had if I had gone to Lucky Strike, which had a turnout of over four hundred college freshmen.
Work with Small Groups Even if it's a small group in a crowded room like in a cafeteria, it's a lot better to just talk with one person or a few than trying to do something with a large group. The day after the bowling event, I went to breakfast and asked a couple of girls if I could sit with them. A few more joined, but by then I knew that we all suffered from crappy roads at home and that we all liked Doctor Who. Friends for life. Right there.
Join Clubs You're Interested In This is important. If you know the people in your group have a common interest with you, you can skip a lot of the small talk and talk about one of your favorite interests with someone else just as interested or try to convert them to the dark side if they are just trying something out.
Just Relax You can't force yourself to want to make friends and you can't force yourself to socialize so just relax. You're already putting yourself out there enough by going to a new place that's out of your comfort zone, getting roommates and figuring out the art of getting textbooks without selling your prized copy of Divergent that was signed by Veronica Roth herself. If you don't have some new friends by the end of welcome week, then that's okay. You still have a long time to make friends and you should do it in your own time.