The little things seem to make all the difference. Two little things—going to Target and sitting in the right spot in one class—helped me make some of the best friends that I found in college. Looking back, it seems nearly unbelievable that those two things could even connect in the first place, and also that they could dramatically change my college experience for the better.
Leaving home to go to college for the first time is paradoxically, uniquely common. We all share this delicate mixture of emotions—excitement, anticipation, doubt and a sense of loss. Of course college is very exciting, but no one truly understands what it’s like until you get there. Sure, perhaps some of us watch siblings or older friends leave before us—coming back at intervals to regale us with tales of drunken escapades with people we’ll never meet. But it’s not the same.
Going to college is a leap into an unknown foray of trepidatious social interactions and new experiences. And perhaps more than classes or careers or roommates, prospective college students worry about making friends. I sure did. I spent the previous 18 years of my life making the best friends one could have—and now I need to say goodbye to them? It hit me especially hard because my school, Boston College, started much later than my friends’ colleges. So there I sat, in sunny Central Florida, watching my friends jet off one by one across the country to their schools.
But finally, my turn came. I moved in to a triple—think a double, but three people squeezed in like sardines—unpacked and met my roommates. They seemed very nice, and I felt cautiously optimistic about this whole college thing. Welcome week meant that freshmen schedules were jam-packed with icebreakers and team building activities by room, floor and dorm. Naturally, the RAs placed a lot of emphasis on getting everyone settled in their new home away from home.
Boston College set up a fleet of buses to schlep any intrepid freshmen to Target to stock up on supplies that didn’t fit in the car—or in my case, my JetBlue checked bags—on the way up to school. One of my roommates planned to go, so I decided that I would go, too. The best way to get to know people is to actually go out and do stuff with them. That wasn’t going to happen staying in my room texting my friends from back home. So off we went across campus to the bus stop where these Target transports allegedly planned to pick us up. Instead, a swirling mass of freshmen with the same idea welcomed us. No bus in sight.
My roommate, Josh, spied a familiar face in the crowd—a girl named Allison who he met in his summer orientation group. Off we went to stand next to her and hopefully figure out when this bus would arrive. After mumbling “excuse me” more times than I can count, we met up with Allison and a few of her roommates and floormates in this eternal wait for the Target bus. Brief introductions ensued, and we spent the rest of the time talking about our classes, hometowns, and oh, you like Friends and Breaking Bad, too? Wow, how similar we really are.
Finally, a huge bus trundled up to us and we spent a good part of the evening running around Target with our fellow freshmen, buying things that we felt oh so sure would absolutely need for the upcoming year—like a gallon of Goldfish crackers in my case. I was happy because I now knew a few more people at this huge school where it seemed like everyone already knew each other.
Skip ahead to the first day of class. I walked in to one of my classes, called Perspectives. The inconsequential but arresting choice of where to sit greeted me. I chose a seat on the edge of the room—definitely because I wanted to look out the window and definitely not because I got there late and most of the other seats were taken. As I walked by, I scanned the room searching for a familiar face. And as luck would have it, Allison was also in this class! I took my seat and got out a pen and paper, nodding to the guys around me—sharing in this mutually uncomfortable and nerve-wracking experience that is the first day of college.
But, as I would later discover, one of the guys sitting next to me was named Danny. Throughout the following weeks and months, Danny and I exchanged small conversations out of proximity’s sake. Allison formed an informal study group that would meet the night before the tests in this class. Danny and I started talking more in these study groups. Allison noticed this and said, “You guys should be roommates or something.”
Looking back, it’s surreal to realize that this actually happened. Danny told me that he knew about this group of guys who needed two more to complete an eight-person room for sophomore year. I said yes before meeting any of these people and before truly getting to know Danny. I briefly met some of them during the spring semester of freshman year, but other than that I was in the dark. Would I like these guys? Would I like living with them sophomore year?
The summer after freshman year came and went. I got to see all of my friends from high school again. I felt very sad to leave them again and go back up to college. Moving in with strangers felt like freshman year all over again and I worried about it constantly. The only reason I felt prepared to room with Danny and live with him stemmed from a late-night run at Target and a window seat in one of my classes. It seemed a pretty tenuous way to make new friends—especially since all of my now-roommates already knew each other. I remember calling my girlfriend and crying, asking her if she thought I would make friends with these guys. She, of course, reassured me that I would, but I wasn’t sure. Without much of a choice at this point, I decided take the optimistic route and hope it all worked out.
If I only knew. Over the course of my sophomore year, my roommates and I became best friends. And, while these friendships blossomed, so did others. People I work with on the newspaper, in my classes and people I was introduced to all became great friends. If I only knew that I would love my roommates, I would never have worried about leaving my friends from home that summer. I would never have worried about leaving behind a safe and secure net of similarity that I wove before college.
But I didn’t know. So I did worry. And that’s okay. You know when you know. Not before. Whether people admit it or not, everyone experiences a breathless nervous moment, day, week, month or longer when they get to campus and don’t know what to do, who to eat lunch with or spend time with. They don’t know if going to a soccer game across campus with their roommate will be the activity that helps them find their friends or if sitting down at this table with people they don’t really know would be the right thing to do.
I did all of those things and more, seeking new experiences to meet new people. Some worked and some didn’t. And that’s okay too. Join clubs, go to study groups, participate in the lame activities your RA puts on for you. Go to Target and buy Goldfish—it worked for me. But whatever you do, trust in yourself and trust in the process. Everyone else is in the same boat. Everyone wants to make friends. And you will. Just maybe not in the way that you think.