Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I felt awkward talking to new people, so I would always make them talk to me first. I would never really keep the conversation going on for long because I feared they would find me annoying. I was a timid, nervous wreck when it came to making new friends.
This summer, I told myself I would put myself out there and make the first move to reach out to people and develop friendships. All my friends from high school stayed local in Georgia and didn’t come anywhere near Philadelphia because they wanted to be close to home. I was going to have to make all new friends at Temple University — my absolute, worst nightmare.
Still, making new friends seemed less daunting than going through college all alone.
I turned to Instagram to try to find other incoming freshmen through the social media pages, both on Facebook and Instagram, specifically for incoming freshmen. I would follow them and wait patiently for a follow back or a direct message. I was anxious because I didn’t want to come across as awkward, even though that’s how I felt while texting people. It’s hard to build a relationship and get to know someone through text messages.
I knew if I wanted to put myself out there and get out of my comfort zone, I had to make an effort to do so. Fortunately, people were responding to me, but I had to respond and reach out to other people if I wanted to start the school year with some friends. I didn’t want to go through my first semester of college by myself and I definitely didn’t want to be in a new city and not know anyone.
I reached out to people I thought I had a lot in common with from their introduction posts on the Temple University Class of 2024 Facebook and Instagram pages. The quickest way to make friends was to be honest and direct. I started direct messaging people, introducing myself and mentioning that I was looking to make friends before going to campus. I also made two posts on the Instagram and Facebook pages to see if anyone would respond to me. Those are the friendships that flourished and continued into the school year.
Although I was still shy, I finally did it. I was able to develop nice and fun friendships with people before coming to campus in August and luckily, I was able to keep them once everyone moved to campus. I made friends from my individual college and those in my residence hall that were based off our similar music and movie interests. I even made a friend solely off of the fact that the two of us wanted a workout buddy.
I made friends by reaching out first, and that was enough for me for one month. Before the pandemic, I wasn’t a very sociable person. I love hanging out with and meeting people, but my social interaction tolerance can be exacerbated fairly quickly. Maintaining a social media presence became exhausting and felt more like a job than a pastime. I needed a recharge and a break to get my thoughts together before reaching out to more people.
Once the school year started and I became interested in making more friends on campus, I thought about joining clubs and organizations. I knew I was somewhat decent at writing and thought that would be the best route to go. I spent hours on end going through OwlConnect trying to find clubs where I thought I would flourish. If I wanted to make the best out of my time, I had to put myself out there and showcase my talent.
It was pure luck that it worked out.
Trying to sound as polite as possible, I wrote emails asking people for more information about clubs or organizations I was interested in at Temple, like REFINE Magazine, HerCampus, Fashion and Business Club and The Temple News. I crossed my fingers and watched movies like “Twilight” and “The Great Gatsby” to distract myself while I awaited any type of response.
When I heard back from the editors of these publications, I was shocked all of them said yes. I prepared myself for a “no” because I was a freshman who had no experience writing for any type of publication. It felt amazing people were giving me a platform to grow as a writer and that they believed in me.
I tried to present myself as a naturally extroverted person, but on the inside, I was very reserved and self-conscious. Little did anyone know that before every interview or meeting on Zoom, I was frantically trying to make sure I didn’t look a hot mess or that my resting face didn’t look too off-putting.
I practiced my go-to phrases, like “Oh my god, yes” or “My ideas are a tad vague, but I’m sure I can figure it out later” or my personal favorite, “I don’t have any questions now, but I will definitely email or text you if I think of any” because I really didn’t have any questions and I dreaded others asking if I did. I wanted to get across the message to the higher-ups I was reaching out to that I was paying attention and engaged, but I just didn’t know how to ask questions or to respond without sounding like I would burst out in tears.
But hey, at least I always kept my camera on.
I was determined to overcome this anxiety around putting myself out there both personally with friendships and professionally and make the best of the virtual setting. Although speaking up over video chat was difficult at first, being able to stay in my sweatpants or pajamas was physically comfortable. This was one of the few perks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic took away once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and experiences. I will never be able to get dressed up and dance the night away at senior prom, walk on stage with my diploma at high school graduation or carry all my boxes and suitcases into my college dorm on move-in day freshman year. So many things that I dreamt about for as long as I can remember will remain a fantasy.
But in exchange, it gave me the nudge I desperately needed to be myself and take pride in my skills. And for that, I am thankful.