By Heather Budimulia
While it is only the first week of classes, it’s by no means any freshman’s first foray into Northwestern’s social scene. Thanks to the Internet and a global network of Wildcats, it’s possible to have connections before even setting foot on campus. However, that’s not the social path I opted for last year and I spent my pre-frosh summer committing the ultimate social sin: talking to the friends I already had.
I used to regret that, to think my inability to communicate over the Internet and fear of meeting a group of strangers in some predetermined location had somehow stunted my social pros
pects. However, in retrospect, I can say that making friends before college is unnecessary and ultimately not as beneficial as just waiting—the class of 2017 wasn’t going anywhere.
Before school started, the Class of 2017 Facebook page, now a black hole of Medill interview requests, shameless plugs and missing belongings, was full of social activity. People were sending friend requests, presumably chatting and even meeting up all over the world. And of course, there I was, sitting at my computer on the sidelines, not sure of how to jump into the conversation.
My chances looked good.
I told myself I would make up for my inability to talk to people on Facebook by being outgoing (a tall order) in real life. I figured that during those 10 days of pre-orientation and Wildcat Welcome, everyone would be on their most social behavior and be open to random conversation and awkward encounters.
At international student orientation, my peer advising group was nice enough, but the ice wasn’t breaking as quickly as I’d hoped. I observed, though, that after the programmed activities were over, some members of PA groups would just leave, walking with such purpose that they had to know what they were doing and where they were headed. It was like they had somewhere to be.
When I made a comment to one of the more well-adjusted students about his social prowess, he shared with me that his group members were all from Korea and had met up multiple times that summer. Similar hangouts happened all over the world, bringing together current and future Wildcats. Whatever the agenda of the meeting was, it managed to get all the awkward introductions out of the way and result in actual friendships.
As someone who didn’t jumpstart the process, it was intimidating to come to an orientation program where it felt like I was the only one who needed to make friends. It was unsettling to see people walk up and talk to each other without rattling off their name, major and hometown. In fact, I found it negated the purpose of even having orientation since it made me less likely to talk to people for fear of disrupting their already “settled” friendships.
If a face-to-face meet-up wasn’t possible due to geography or scheduling conflicts, there were many Facebook groups for eager beavers to mingle in. I dabbled in that to a tiny extent but would say not to hedge your bets on making anything more than Facebook friends with people that you met through the Internet.
I admit it’s pretty tempting to find people who “get me” the minute the biographical, tell-all roommate posts go up. It’s also just as easy to strike up a conversation with a casual (it has to be casual) and non-committal “hey”. However, I still believe there’s a lot to be said about people being different behind the screen than in person.
After finding out I’d messaged one of my randomly-chosen suitemates briefly about being roommates (which didn’t actually happen in the end), I started to see the difference between typing and speaking. We reenacted our conversation in real life one day, inflecting where we needed to and laughing uncontrollably. We realized that parts that seemed awkward before were just personality quirks that hadn’t quite come through online.
I also realized how glad I was to have just happened to meet her in real life because I wouldn’t have known how to pursue our “Internet friendship” otherwise. There are other people I’ve talked to and wouldn’t mind meeting, but what’s stopping me is a real-life/Internet barrier that’s awkward to cross. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of protocol regarding how to approach people after Facebook stalking them for hours. For example, is it weird to say “I saw your profile on Facebook?”
In the information age, almost everything is on the Internet, whether it be a roommate profile, blog or Instagram. It’s kind of creepy to make conversation about advertised interests and similarities since you both know that you know. I think because we have all that information, we’ve lost the ability to have a natural first encounter. We may hate the name, major and hometown spiel, but it definitely gets the conversation going and puts both parties at ease.
My belief in college friendships happening in college made me late to the party because I showed up on time. Despite that, I don’t feel that I was the only one missing out. Coming to college with friends and a group based on geography or advertised interests not only isolates non-members; it also isolates the group.
I’m not saying not to talk to anyone before you get here In fact, you probably should. Just don’t count entirely on them, and keep your options open. The possibilities for unexpected friendships in a sea of 2,000 undergraduates are endless and unpredictable, and feeling comfortable lessens the incentive to explore. You never know what you could have found if you just talked to someone you actually didn’t know.