Starting university can be difficult for everyone. Challenging curricula, living with strangers and the pressure to socialise every day of the week are sure to drain even the most extroverted of students. Yet, for introverts, these challenges are magnified. Bring a global pandemic into the equation and the task of moving to university seems near impossible.
I found myself in this position a couple of months ago when, fresh out of a national lockdown, I moved to Leeds as a first-year student. But before I talk about my own experience, let’s make one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with introversion. We are not shy or antisocial, nor are we boring. It simply takes a while for us to open up.
I am a life-long introvert, who has moved 200 miles away from home to study at a university in a bustling and fast-paced city. The pandemic has stifled many of the methods introverts rely on to make friends. Freshers’ and society events have been moved online and barely any teaching has been face-to-face.
I spent my first month at university believing that I would never find any like-minded people. Most nights I was locked away in my room, listening to the distant cheers of students having the time of their lives at their numerous flat parties. I had never felt so alone. So, I took things into my own hands and began meeting up with fellow course mates, people whom I was bound to have a thing or two in common with. By the third week of university, we had gone out for lunch, played mini golf together and spent what must have been three hours in a pub chatting away about life back at home and, of course, the pandemic that had brought our freshers’ experience to a grinding halt.
The initial feelings of loneliness and alienation are (mostly) a thing of the past, and I now feel comfortable enough to call Leeds my second home. I have also made many new friends, one of whom I now can’t imagine my life without. Our friendship blossomed after I had built up the courage to invite her out for coffee. We soon realised how much we had in common and how badly we both needed each other. If you happen to be reading this Suzy, thank you for all the laughs we have shared so far. I can’t wait for what lies ahead.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been moments of regret and doubt. These emotions exclusively defined my first few weeks at university. Even when my introversion made me feel like the loneliest person on the planet, I constantly had to remind myself that thousands of other students were in very similar situations. So, if you’re a university student and proud introvert, I hope these tips will set you on the right path towards happiness and self-acceptance.
Step out of your comfort zone…
University is all about pushing yourself beyond the comforts that have defined your life up until this point. This is the mantra I have lived by since September, challenging myself to go out at least three times a week. My friends and I would go on walks together, host movie nights and spend hours in coffee shops. Regardless of how I was spending my time, I was continuously challenging myself every week by meeting new people, and that was something to be proud of.
… and know your boundaries
Introverts also need to find time to recover from overstimulating environments. So, along with setting myself challenges, I also promised myself rewards. If I had gone out with a few friends on Friday, I wouldn’t feel guilty about staying in my room on Saturday. If you wake up and the thought of making small talk makes you anxious, acknowledge these feelings. Staying in is perfectly okay too. University is all about striking a balance, and it may take a while to realise what balance works for you.
Be true to yourself
The first few weeks will likely leave an introvert feeling lost. The fact that I didn’t want to drink and stay out until dawn like everyone else made me question my personality. But even when you begin to waver, never lose sight of who you are. Embrace your introversion! The best thing about being lost is that it allows you to rediscover yourself and find others who love you for just the way you are.
It can take weeks, months, sometimes years, to forge new friendships, so why do we expect it to happen overnight at university? Even in my darkest moments, I didn’t lose hope and continued embracing the possibilities of simply saying ‘yes.’ The right people are out there waiting for you. It’s up to you to find them!
Header image credit: NBC News