By night I may be an impossibly cool opinion columnist, but by day I am merely an RA in a freshman residence hall.
As an RA, I know what goes into making Residential Life tick, and I’ve seen what residents can do to take full advantage of their year in freshman housing.
However, as someone who was also a painfully shy and anxious freshman, I know what stumbling blocks prevent first-year college students from engaging with their building communities. So, speaking as both an RA and someone constantly convinced that I am just one wrong move away from ridicule, here are four tips that may reassure anyone moving into on-campus housing next year.
First, do not be afraid to overshare with your RA. Seriously. At the risk of revealing too many industry secrets, I will say that RAs submit monthly logs of their interactions with residents and weekly reports of trends on their floor.
Your RA would much rather be approached by you than have to hunt you down for a conversation, and talking through an issue or experience with them will only benefit you. They can connect you with resources and people you may not even be aware exist, or they can just serve as a good sounding board for your emotions and anxieties.
Second, keep an eye on programs happening in your building, college or in the wider campus community. It feels cliché to say “put yourself out there!” and I know how intimidating it can be to go to events alone.
However, I promise you that no one will see you at a program and tell everyone later about what a loser you are. If it helps, pretend instead that everyone is obsessed with your aura of mystery. Once again, RAs are desperate to attract residents to their programs, so even if you show up briefly, you will be making an RA happy.
Third, if making friends at programs is too big of a jump for you, start by studying in public spaces and study rooms within your building. It will passively invite more outgoing people to talk to you and strike up friendships.
My freshman year, I was writing a paper alone in a Laville Hall study room when a beautiful oceanography major and his friend stopped in to ask if they could use the space too. I acquiesced, and we later had a wonderful conversation about deep-sea fish (swoon.) This could be you!
Lastly, if all else fails, don’t beat yourself up for spending time alone. One Harvard study showed that over half of college freshmen assume they have fewer friends and are having less fun than their peers, proving that a healthy amount of college loneliness is due to skewed perceptions and not your social dysfunction.
It may seem like everyone else in your building has an entourage of friends, but remember that these are just the most visible people—there are countless freshmen out of sight, watching a movie in their rooms, studying at a coffee shop off campus. Worrying that you’re not having enough fun isn’t productive, but learning about your interests while you’re alone is.
Transitioning to college can be difficult, and living in communal housing can be even more so. When it becomes too daunting, just remember that you’re the main character on campus, and everyone else is just an extra in your coming-of-age movie.
Cécile Girard is a 21-year-old psychology junior from Lake Charles.