For me, 2020 included a lot of milestones: graduating high school, turning 18, getting my first job and most importantly, starting college. You might think that with the pandemic overshadowing all of these events, it would be impossible to enjoy this huge transitional period in my life. Yes, missing out on the second semester of my senior year was disappointing, but as September rolled around and I headed off to college over 2,000 miles away from my California suburb, I started to see the silver linings of social distancing. I hope that reading about my college experience will remind every introvert out there that starting college doesn’t have to be socially stressful.
Faced with the prospect of starting over in a new place, I felt a lot of pressure to get organized and establish my new lifestyle right away. My main concern was a common worry among new college students: Will I be able to make friends? It felt like if I didn’t find my BFFs within the first 48 hours of setting foot on campus, I was destined to remain friendless for eternity. Unfortunately, being an introvert and somewhat of a misanthrope, I knew that making friends might be a struggle — COVID-19, of course, would only make it more difficult.
During the first few weeks, the social pressure felt crushing. I tried to go out and meet people, I really did, but wearing masks made it difficult to even carry on a conversation with most of my peers. I have a very quiet voice, so trying to speak up in a group conversation took an enormous amount of energy. Eventually, it became easier to say nothing at all, which, of course, is not ideal when you are attempting to befriend people.
It wasn’t until a few weeks in that I realized something: I was putting so much pressure on myself to find friends that I hadn’t even questioned why I wanted to make them so badly in the first place. I suppose I assumed that people would look down on me for being anti-social, but I hadn’t considered that no one really expected students to socialize during the pandemic; we were actually encouraged to avoid people.
Maybe COVID-19 wasn’t hindering my socialization; instead, it was giving me an opportunity to do what I was most comfortable with, which was hanging out alone in my dorm room. So, every time I started to worry about my lack of friends, I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself, “Callie, there’s a pandemic going on. You aren’t being antisocial, you’re being responsible.”
Once I stopped putting so much pressure on myself to socialize, I realized something important. Having no friends gives you a lot of free time. Instead of wasting hours away worrying about my relationships, I could put that energy into exploring the rest of college life. Social distancing actually made exploring a lot easier; everything was conveniently online and accessible from my dorm.
Choosing my extracurriculars, for instance, was much less anxiety-inducing than it would have been in a normal year. Many colleges have hundreds of extracurricular groups to choose from, but, for the average introvert — especially an indecisive introvert like me — exploring all of these options can be more exhausting than fun.
In normal times, there are countless info sessions and inaugural club meetings held all over campus (and with each meeting comes awkward small talk and dreaded human interaction), but in COVID-19 times, joining a club is as simple as clicking a Zoom link.
With more free time and an easier path toward getting involved, I was able to find some great extracurriculars. I joined an a cappella group, a dance troupe and a tutoring program. Even though these activities aren’t exactly the most fun things in the world — trust me, singing and dancing over Zoom is no cakewalk — I’m happy to be a part of activities that I know I’ll be passionate about once the pandemic ends.
I also took time to get acquainted with other parts of the university. I explored campus, attended info sessions and talked to my academic and career advisors. Additionally, spending more time alone helped me appreciate my friends and family back in California. Even phone calls with my parents and awkward family Zooms became enjoyable.
Ultimately, I feel satisfied with how I chose to spend my first quarter. Exploring my surroundings and figuring out my personal goals were better ways to find my footing than going to hang-outs and parties. Plus, my new extracurriculars will give me ample opportunities to socialize and potentially befriend people who share my interests later on in the year.
Now that I have a foundation for myself, I feel more prepared to go back to Chicago next quarter and put more energy into befriending my peers. Even if I don’t find my crowd until the pandemic is over, I know that I’ll be OK on my own.
The point of this personal anecdote is to remind every introvert in the class of 2021 — and beyond — that you shouldn’t feel pressured to make friends right away. All high schoolers have an idea in their head of how the start of college should go — I definitely did — but there is no “right way” to establish your new life. Quarantine helped me find the right path, and even though COVID-19 will (hopefully) be gone by the start of the next school year, don’t forget that you have the final say on how you want to begin your college adventure.