In March of 2020, my senior year of high school, I was unexpectedly sent home from boarding school for the rest of the year due to COVID-19.
This marked the beginning of my 1.5 year-long stay at home, missing my high school graduation, my freshman year of college, and two full summers.
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When I took my very first class at George Washington University, I sat in my bed with my computer on my lap and my camera off because I was nervous that people would think my Zoom background was weird, or that I would accidentally do something strange on camera.
Exactly a year later, I took my first in-person college class and found myself wishing I still had the ability to switch my camera off. I spent a year learning how to set up virtual backgrounds to hide my messy room or avoid looking like I’m checking myself out in the camera, or even how to multitask on other tabs. The first friends I made in college were through the Zoom chat. Seeing them in person after a year of virtual connection was both confusing and exciting.
Yesterday, a freshman approached me outside of my Intro to Communications class and asked if she was in the right place. I told her I didn’t know for sure, but that she shouldn’t worry too much because while it may be my second year, it’s also my very first college class. We ended up sitting next to each other and listened to our teacher make jokes about how she didn’t remember how to talk in front of a room full of people.
Then, after class, someone approached me in the Trader Joe and eagerly said, “Hi Grace! It is so nice to finally meet you in person!” I returned the remark but had absolutely no clue who the person was. I complimented her outfit and said we would catch up later. As she walked away, I opened up my Instagram and searched through my followers to figure out who she was.
My situation is not unique at all. Students all over the country are readjusting to in-person classes and day-to-day interactions on campus. It’s confusing, overwhelming, and really exciting. If you’re feeling overstimulated by being surrounded by all these students, but also strangely lonely and scared, you are not the only one. Here’s what I have learned as I have been navigating this experience.
Reach out to your peers before they reach out to you
A majority of the students you will meet won’t be the type to DM you on Instagram and put themselves out there. However, most students will be wondering why no one has reached out to them. The answer is simple: you can’t wait for them to message you, you need to message them. I can 100% guarantee that the response will be that they are so glad you messaged them and they’ve been trying to make friends too.
Say hello to your internet friends on the street
There are so many people that I have never talked to, virtually or in person, but have been following on Instagram since I was admitted to GW. When someone stops you and says, “Hey! I swear I follow you on Instagram. It’s so nice to meet you in person!” They most likely want you to be their friend. Again, it may feel awkward, but it will usually be received very well.
Introduce yourself to your professors
One of the most important parts of college is building relationships and networking with your professors. Down the road, this is really important for finding jobs, internship opportunities, and research positions. Last year, students missed a lot of important connections. I’ll be the first to admit that I never attended virtual office hours or stayed after Zoom class to chat with a professor. Now, it’s important to make up for lost time and build those relationships.
Join student organizations
The key to not feeling lonely in the first weeks of college is to pack stuff into your schedule before your academics pick up so that you can meet people and build relationships right away. What’s the best way to do this? Join student organizations. Finding organizations with missions that resonate with you will bring you together with people who share similar interests and passions.
Wear your cool outfits and makeup — regardless of what others may think
The other day I saw a girl with bright pink eyeliner on and it was the perfect conversation starter. Everyone loves to be complimented, so when you see something you like, feel free to say something. As for yourself, don’t be afraid to wear bright and bold things (as long as you like them and feel good!) because it makes you stand out and makes people want to come to talk to you.
Remind yourself that everyone’s in the same boat
Don’t take anything too seriously. Everyone’s a little confused and unclear about how they should be acting. Don’t worry about making a mistake or saying the wrong thing because chances are people are so nervous and stressed about themselves that they won’t even notice what you did. Don’t stress too much and try to enjoy the ride.