Section: Opinion

Making friends as a first-year student is harder than ever

Before becoming a college student, I was subjected to constant complaints about the struggles of “Zoom University” from my undergraduate friends. They told me funny stories about forgetting to turn off the microphone or being distracted by pets during class. In the end, my friends unanimously agreed on the difficulty of concentrating on schoolwork while being stuck at home. 

My household wouldn’t exactly provide the most stable and supportive environment for learning, so I was grateful for the opportunity to study in person this fall. After the initial week of betting on when we would be sent home, I slowly settled into my new reality: College was  actually happening.

The burden of making connections shouldn’t fall on new students or student organizations alone; the administration should make a conscious effort to create more socially distanced, in-person programs and prioritize the mental well-being of all students, faculty and staff. It is my hope that the College will strengthen communication between the administration and students and continue to provide spaces for students to build meaningful relationships, especially for historically underrepresented groups who might feel alienated moving from a more cosmopolitan area to here on the Hill.

The class of 2024 stepped onto Middle Path as a group of socially deprived and touch-starved young adults who needed connections like fish need water. Some students had already established relationships with classmates through social media and group chats before orientation; they gave “air hugs” to each other and acted like old friends upon arrival on campus. Some students were members of sports teams and quickly settled into an established community. But some students, who were perhaps not the most extroverted and had little to no connections prior to move-in, felt lost in this strange new environment.

I unfortunately belonged to the latter group. We had naively hoped that the loneliness and feeling of isolation would dissipate after a few weeks or months, but we were wrong. I came out of lockdown wanting nothing more than to hug all of my high school friends, but instead, found myself in the middle of endless cornfields in rural Ohio, away from my support system for the first time in years. Fortunately, the chaos of 2020 has trained me to keep in touch with friends through Instagram direct messages and Zoom calls. But even the daily calls did not ease my initial anxiety about making friends in college.

People had told me that the first couple of weeks were the easiest time to make friends: Everyone would be just as desperate as I was. This pressure was somehow more detrimental to my mental health than my slow progress in building friendships. The lack of in-person events and gatherings did not help, though I understand the necessary precautions to protect public health. The administration arranged virtual events during orientation, but due to different levels of familiarity with social media and technology, some students didn’t have  access to the information about the activities.

As the first years move into the semester, the responsibility of event planning has fallen largely on student organizations. I attended virtual fairs and Zoom interest meetings for clubs and activities, but the many inconveniences that come with meeting people through a screen complicated the process of building authentic connections. Nevertheless, I deeply appreciated the upperclass students who were sympathetic to our situation as first years and reached out to us with guidance and support. I recognize that we are in this together: Everyone, on or off campus, is battling some form of adversity.

It is hard to smile through your mask. It is hard to start a conversation in class when the nearest person is at least six feet away. It is hard to randomly approach someone and start a conversation. I question how much of the hassle is due to my social awkwardness rather than the limitations of this pandemic. But everyone (or most of us, anyway) shares the struggle of making connections to some degree. Just like how we scarcely see someone’s life accurately reflected on social media, we cannot infer how people really feel about a social situation.

Had it not been for my lovely friends, my orientation group and Moxie, who played wingman and created opportunities for a shy first-year student like me to strike up conversations, my first couple of weeks at Kenyon would have been drastically different. It is comforting to have someone to wave to while walking down Middle Path — so next time you see another student looking a little lost, stop and say, “hi!” Maybe you’ll make a new friend. It is more important now than ever to build a support system and look out for one another. 

Ocean Wei ’24 is an undeclared major from Beijing, China/St. Louis, Mo. You can contact them at wei2@kenyon.edu.

0 Comments

Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at collegian@kenyon.edu.