This blog discusses challenges with friendships and relationships at University and shares some coping strategies to help yourself.
Feelings of difference when first coming to university are quite common especially in the first semester. When it comes to making friendships, there is a full thought process involved that shapes their strategies for identifying potential suitable friends. Most students are actually not just looking for friendships, but those that are similar to them in some way or with whom they have things in common. These similarities could include; ethnicity, race, faith, religion, hobbies, accent, fashion sense, music taste etc.
But why I hear you ask? You see these similarities provide some feelings of safety. It is common for a black student to only feel safe when there are other black students around. As a student on clinical placement, I felt more confident seeing other black students and clinicians there. Also seeing black lecturers made me feel more confident and comfortable, yes representation matters.
You’ve heard the phrase humans are social animals right? Well, friendships means having someone to lean on, a listening ear, or to be around when needed. Friends wish the best for each other and express mutual understanding and compassion. They look to each other for emotional support and can make mistakes without fear of being judged. In fact, good friendships play an important role in enabling students to fulfill their potential, and that’s why they sometimes take longer to develop. Lack of friends and social relationships, on the other hand, can lead to painful feelings of loneliness, and cognitive perception that affects our brains, creating feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, isolation, erosion and generally feeling unhappy.
The struggle to connect in a higher education environment :
Meeting a stranger and sensing something that might inspire you to invite them into your circle is not always easy. Students enter universities from a variety of backgrounds. Traditional age learners begin immediately after high school graduation; others may go through a career transition; still others enroll in higher education after raising a family. As they continue their education, adjusting to new circumstances – struggling to make friends, finding their way in new environments, integrating into classroom and school culture – can lead to a change in social relationships. Such changes often lead to the separation of old friendships and the need to create new ones. Many international students have difficulty integrating into classrooms and campuses. Living away from one’s support system can leave students without a loving person to guide them, leaving them lonely and socially disconnected in large study groups.
As social beings, we have a basic need to be included and have strong relationships; and such an absence may be unnatural for any individual. Students may find it easier to make friends in a face-to-face learning environment than in a virtual or online environment brought about by the pandemic. With less contact and less personal interaction, opportunities for new students to make or maintain existing friendships can be difficult.
Some tips you can try:
- In class, try to engage in group tasks tasks.
- Discuss the views on the course content with other students
- When preparing for an assignment or exam, meet with others for a brain storming session
- Remember some people can be more comfortable sharing their lives/ experiences sooner than others, don’t feel compelled to do so to.
- Good communication – listen and recognize everyone’s feelings
- Ensure the friendship facilitates honesty and trust
- Know the limits and accept your differences (strengths and weaknesses)
- Friends must be equal, no superiority (if there’s, that a red flag)
- Accept that disagreements will happen because you are both human (you’re not the same person)
- Accept that your opinions may defer on occasions
- Express respect and mutual support for each other
- Celebrating achievements positively (birthdays, anniversaries, good grades, job)
- Take the time to create your own things – it is important to have your own
Consider the above tips and compare to your friendship, if things seem way different, it could be that the relationship has become harmful or abusive. You may need to walk away or seek help and advice – speak to someone at the Student support at your University – they may refer you to specialist services.
Remember the great thing about university is that it may give you a chance to meet people from all walks of life, a chance to join different societies who will have similar interests to you.
Also worth remembering that because friendships are mutually set up by freedom, there are no contracts signed or involved to establish them, we choose freely and are chosen to be friends freely.
The only way to have a friend is to be one (Emerson, 1841)
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