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Overcoming Shyness in Freshers’ Week

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Countless articles are written in the summer before the infamous Freshers’ Week: that annual student initiation connoting drunken mistakes and some of the best stories to retell to those at home. 

But amid beaming Instagram pictures of the biggest paint party – like, ever – and those home friends updating you all with their latest exploits or newfound romantic interests, many new students fall back into the shadows.

The truth is that whilst your Freshers’ is full of the experiences and chances you take, it’s a rough start for many. Under societal pressure and university folklore, a new student is expected to adapt quickly after moving away from home for the first time, learning to keep themselves alive, and leaving behind familiarity. There are, however, a few techniques that can help you overcome these struggles and enjoy yourself despite them.

1. Trick everyone into thinking you’re interesting (which you are).

I don’t mean this in a ‘fake it until you make it’ way. That mantra is so common amongst theoretical advice columns, yet it is probably the least helpful method, as it doesn’t let you naturally build up skills or experience those moments you need to experience to become you. Rather, I mean this in small, personalised routines. A simple habit can help balance you for the day by projecting familiarity onto a strange situation or place.

For example, spend an hour in the morning or afternoon, sat in a PUBLIC place and surround yourself with people. Take a book, your sketchpad, just something to keep you busy. Relax into this solitude. People watch, listen to their conversations. One day you’ll be in a group like that. Maybe the one in the corner having philosophical coffee meetings, or that indie artist making phone calls about their latest project, or the still-kind-of-drunk best friends who overslept after a heavy night out. For now, sit, smile, and relax.

Ruminate with yourself.

2. Make plans (and stick to them!)

One of the best ways to get over your fear of doing things is, well, doing them. Think exposure therapy. The more you’re exposed to something, in theory, the more desensitised you are to that thing. In other words, the more you do things, the less scary those things are to do.

Making plans is an excellent start. By writing it into your diary, your phone calendar, that clicked ‘going’ on a Facebook event, you’re promising yourself that you can and will do this thing. Plus, knowing when you are busy and when you are free gives you plenty of control over how your week will develop.

3. Make plans (and break them!)

Knowing your limits is just as important as pushing them. Sometimes, when we make too many plans, we’re overwhelmed, and are far are less likely to be effective or to enjoy anything at all. Be selective and place meaning in these selections. Would you rather go alone to a huge party hosted by a friend-of-a-friend’s cousin, or meet up for a drink with that lovely person you spoke to during the campus tour? More importantly, which one would you be more likely to want to go to?

It is far more beneficial to show up and attend one thing than it is to promise to attend countless events that you, honestly, will mostly end up skipping.

4. Contact home

It's ok if you need to call home every night. Text your friends from home when you feel lost and upset, Skype call your emotional support team, there’s no shame! It’s far better to ease yourself into your new environment when you still have contact with home and the people you love, and who love you.

It’s utterly ridiculous to expect yourself to be able to cope with everything as well as cut off all contact with people you would otherwise talk to daily. Why make it harder? You will find that a conversation mid-morning with your best friend will give you the confidence to talk to that stranger later in the day. Over time, you will find yourself receiving ‘when are you free to call me?’ messages because you haven’t called them in a few weeks.

Ultimately, however, if you find yourself staying in your room every spare chance you get, cancelling on amazing opportunities that you were looking forward to, or generally not taking care of yourself just so you can maintain contact with home, slow down a bit. Go and talk to the on-campus student support service. They will help you if you’re struggling just a bit more than you’d like.

5. Look for the lost and overwhelmed

Everyone has bad days and, sometimes, they show it. Look for these signs: smiling too much, a resting frown face, laughing too loud or not at all, sitting alone, folded arms, looking at their phone, literally asking for directions. These people are easily found if you are willing to pay a little less attention to your own inner turmoil and more on your environment.

After all, what's a great way to feel better? Help others!

Hear someone crying in your student accommodation? Knock on their door, ask if they're okay, offer something nice like food or a show to watch together. When you focus on making others happy, you forget your own unhappiness and fears, and soon, when they’re laughing with you and thanking you, you’ll be shocked to see you are genuinely better as well.

Fun fact: other people are just as trepidatious as you. Talk to them. Share experiences. I, for example, struggled in the first year but found out in subsequent years from talking to friends and classmates that they, too, had struggled during Freshers’ and beyond. Some of them might just surprise you.

6. ‘Befriend’ an extrovert

Extroverts are often easy to spot and flamboyant in their joyous approach to life. They are infectious. This is totally a generalisation, fair warning, and some extroverts are also very shy. Watch how they interact with people. Don’t copy them, because that wouldn’t be true to who you are, and changing your personality is not, and should not, be our goal here. Merely pick up skills from these extroverts and see what they do that helps them enjoy their time so much.

7. ‘Befriend’ an introvert

Like above, introverts are different in the way they interact with people and situations, but nonetheless, have the skills you want to pick up. Their sensitivity to others, their caution, and unlike extroverts, their need to have time to regroup. Knowing when to have some downtime is integral to your ability to overcome your fears.

8. Make mistakes and enjoy others’ mistakes

We’ve all heard of them; that fresher who spent his entire student loan in Waitrose, that guy on a seventeen-day bender, that girl who lost her UniCard in the busiest site on campus, that friend who wrote down the date of all her events wrong and missed everything. Mistakes are an essential part of university. So make them.

Not only do mistakes make great stories after the fact, mistakes also serve as a lesson to the shy or naive. You’re not at home anymore and you will mess up everything and anything at some point. Get used to it by revelling in what mistakes are: character building. Don’t be afraid to make them.

On a side note, I do not recommend any of the above. Mistakes are great, as I’ve said, but please, try not to make too much of a mess.

9. Look forward to next year

The fact Freshers’ Week happens every year is something easily forgotten. You’ll probably still be here next year, won’t you? When you reach your subsequent years, you’re a better, wiser, and more confident version of yourself so why wouldn’t you use everything you learnt from your first year to enjoy yourself?

Anything you miss in the first year you can make up for later. If your first term doesn’t go to plan, don’t panic. Take note of what really hurt to miss (that band concert, that party, not talking to that group of strangers who are all friends now) and add them to your to-do list.

Ultimately, remember that university is the epitome of bad decisions and great expectations. Every university experience is different. Know that, most importantly, you need to stay true to who you are, and let yourself grow into that beautifully brave human you know you can be.

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