Dear Barb – Socially Clueless

Dear Barb:

This fall I leave my current job and home to attend university full time. This is exciting, but also scary because I am an extremely shy person who never had many friends. The thought of sitting alone in cafeterias, study halls and movies brings back all kinds of depressing high school memories. I know from experience that I need space and solitude, but don’t want to be constantly alone. I don’t plan to live in residence because of my cat, but would still like to be part of student life.

Part of the problem is that I can never figure out whether people like me or not. What are some strategies to reach out to my fellow students? I’m not brave enough to just walk up to total strangers and start a conversation. How does an outsider find a supportive, non-judgemental group of friends? What is the secret of making people comfortable around you?

Socially Clueless

Hi SC, I’m sure your question will be of interest to many students embarking on a similar journey this fall. You are right this is an exciting, yet scary time in your life. However, most campuses try to make this experience pleasant for new students. You don’t say in your question, but I’m assuming you are planning to attend Athabasca University. Since Athabasca is primarily an online University the avenue for meeting fellow students will not be in the typical way. Athabasca University Students’ Union provides a wealth of information for new and existing students. Through AUSU you can connect with fellow students who share your interests with such groups as Athabasca University Science Students’ Society, Athabasca University Sports Club, Athabasca University Psychology Students’ Society, as well as the Student Moms Club.

If you cannot find an established group that shares your interest, you can even start your own club. For example, your cat is obviously very important to you, perhaps you would want to start a group for students who are cat lovers. It’s worth a try and is an opportunity for meeting individuals with like interests. Further information on how to start a club is on AUSU Website or email

Moreover AUSU offers a Mentor Program that you may find beneficial. AUSU Mentor Program provides new students with a more experienced student to help them through the hurdles we all go through beginning university. As well, the Study Buddy Program maintains a list of students who wish to establish contact with students taking the same course. Again all this information can be found on AUSU Website.

Another avenue is the AUSU Coffee Clubs. The Coffee Clubs offer a more casual approach with the main focus being to get students in touch with each other. The subject of discussion is open. Listings of the Coffee Clubs are also available at AUSU Website and are organized geographically.

On a more individual level there are some actions you can practice that will help you to become a friendlier person. Simply smiling more often will change the way people respond to you. Also take the initiative to speak first. Even if all you can get out is a simple hello, try to make the effort. It will eventually become easier. Furthermore, when you don’t know what to say, ask questions. Most people love to talk about themselves. In addition, an essential quality to friendship is the ability to actively listen to what the other person is saying. Active listening includes the ability to reiterate what the person has said to you, thus indicating that you understood what they were trying to say. Also active listening means listening to the words the person is saying, rather than half listening, while thinking about what your reply will be.

Finally the experience of leaving home and attending university can be overwhelming, but the rewards are invaluable. Therefore I hope I have been able to answer your questions SC and assist you in beginning an important journey.

E-mail your questions to Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. The author is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.