Since Covid-19 hit us, life has changed totally. Amid all the safe distancing measures, circuit-breaker rules and work-from-home regulations, Singaporeans have had to deal with reduced social interaction across all aspects of society.

While younger students adjusted to home-based learning, universities cancelled their orientation camps and ran virtual open houses for their 2020 intake. With the Singapore university school semester starting in two weeks, schools have recently held virtual orientation programmes for their incoming students to help work out the technicalities of issues such as bidding for modules.

Starting a new phase in your education journey can be stressful. Besides having to cope with academic challenges, there is also the need to feel a sense of belonging in school. And university is also about friendship and meeting people.

In a Reddit post published during the circuit breaker, redditor, u/peternomoney, shared about his difficulties with getting to know people in school as a foreign student. And with the cancellation of freshman orientation camps, he was afraid that he would not be able to make new friends at university.

The comments on the thread left me thinking about the struggles youths face today in making friends.

This sense of isolation is common among many of our young people nowadays. The pressure to find a cliche, or to fit in, especially if you’re in a different country, is high. And the failure to do so can lead to social exclusion and at worst, depression.

University orientation camps have had some controversy in the past, but they are still a staple part of the freshman experience. Personally, I recall dreading all the orientation camps I had to attend and remember doing so only out of obligation.

Orientations & Camps… is it really important?

University Orientation & Camp… is it really important?
Image source: Digital Senior

In another Reddit thread, redditors chimed in with their personal accounts of making friends through orientation camps.

Said redditor kageberry: “Camps are definitely a good way to at least know a few people in the faculty if you don’t know anyone, but you can just make friends along the way as well! Don’t pressure yourself to take part in things that aren’t your cup of tea.”

Commented by another redditor skypher_: “Camps are indeed a way for freshmen to make new friends but they’re not the only way!!!”

With Covid-19 limiting physical classes this year, how can freshmen build the bonds that will help take them through the whirlwind years of university education?

As we continue adhering to safe distancing measures and with online classes as the default, there will still be chances for interaction and things like kindness, values and the human spirit – these can and must still go on in the new normal.

Here are five pointers we can take away from the reddit thread on how to ease your anxiety over meeting people and making friends in a new environment:

A simple greeting

Project friendliness and approachability during your university orientation
Image source: Shutterstock / plo

Even through a mask, you can project friendliness and approachability.

From AJ_corgi: “You will make friends in class, just start by saying hi to those who sit on your left and right :).”

Redditor ConvienienceYield adds: “Make it a point to talk to some people, a lot are shy at the start. But if you take the effort to talk to them, work together during projects…and you will realise that eventually you start knowing more people.”

“Trying to start conversations and smiling more is a good start,” says Law_thejudge.

Make friends as you go

If you do not want to go for your university orientation, you can always make friends on the go!
Image source: Shutterstock / Chinnapong

GroundbreakingEgg6 says: “I never went for camps. my close friends are all from my major or from my CCA.”

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“Sometimes friends come from unexpected places like tutorial groups/honours project/project groups etc and it’s perfectly okay too,” adds redditor lmnmss.

Find like-minded friends

Find like-minded friends at your university orientation
Image source: shutterstock / Rawpixel.com

tictactorz shares: “I joined a sport CCA because of interest and made some good friends/acquaintances there too! It’s easier if you do things you like – you’ll find people who you can click with because you have something in common.”

And wakkawakkaaaa notes: “Joining a CCA/interest group is much better with a common interest serving as a platform for deeper interpersonal interactions.”

Just be yourself

Just be yourself at your university orientation
Image source: Shutterstock / EJ Nickerson

“Talk to people. Be friendly. Ask questions. And friendships will just form naturally.

“Boggles my mind when people go out of their way to make hundreds of hi-bye friends… Definitely make friends, but don’t feel the pressure to get to know people for the sake of doing so. Go at your own pace,” is a word of simple wisdom from bobo_chacha.

BoopityFloop17 adds: “Often, everyone is just as self-conscious as you. Don’t worry about how you’re coming across. Just be a decent human being and you’ll make friends naturally.”

Law_thejudge adds: “I think it would be better if you focus more on your energy on those you feel are on the same wavelength as you? Don’t have to force yourself to start conversations with everyone since it will tire you out quickly.”

Enjoy the present moment

Enjoy your university orientation
Image source: Shutterstock / Gajus

Redditor tanqs789 advises to focus on enjoying the moment: “Just take your time slowly. Don’t rush. Enjoy university life… you can make friends at a comfortable pace. You will find friends.”

Says weiihaee: “My advice to you first and foremost is to change your perspective. You probably feel like a loner because you see everyone else having sooo many friends and you wish to fit in. But sometimes having many friends doesn’t mean having many true friendships. True friendships take ALOT of time to build.”

The desire to be accepted and to find a sense of belonging can contribute to much stress and anxiety and affect your mental health.

If there’s anything to take away from all this, it is to be comfortable in your own skin and to realise that everyone is looking to belong to something too. Being the best version of yourself is a great way of attracting attention.

So the next time you see someone new, smile or take a step to initiate a conversation, just to make them feel welcome. We can all be greater this way!

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