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Get Up and Get Out!

Fitting In 101


Have a lot of bottled-up anxiety about starting your first year of college? You're not alone! All across the country, pre-college students are nibbling their nails to the knuckle with collegiate concerns. There's a lot to lose sleep over: flunking out, fighting the Freshmen 15, dealing with wild roommates, running out of money, sharing a bathroom with 20 other people, etc. Here's one you might not have considered though: making friends.



Although it's just two words -- a verb and a noun -- "making friends" is a lot more complicated than it sounds. For the past four years you've probably had the same friends -- wherever you went, they went, and vice-versa. You never had to worry about what to do on Friday night because you always had your best buds to hang with. As a result, your people-meeting skills are probably a bit rusty, and why shouldn't they be? It's only natural that you wouldn't remember exactly how to go about finding a new clique.



Of course, there are people who can walk into a crowded room and have everyone laughing in five minutes. Let's be realistic, though, these people-magnets are pretty rare. Most of us can be painfully shy when dropped into a totally unfamiliar environment.



So, what are you going to do to make sure you don't spend your first Friday night at college watching reruns of Jerry Springer and using your roommate's computer to surf www.OkCupid.com? You're going to make friends at college who can stick with you for the rest of your life and show you opportunities and ideas you never even imagined.



Here are some suggestions on how to "get up and get out" to meet the people who will keep you company and change your life.



Go Clubbin' (Academic Clubbin', That Is!)


If you're looking for a place where you can intelligently discuss Roman architecture or molecular biology with people who share your passion, academic clubs are the place to go. Getting involved with your school's communications club or pre-law fraternity, for example, can connect you with similar people on a personal and intellectual level.



"Join a student group that has a vested interest in things you care about," advises Rachel Wagner, former assistant director of residence life at Union College (Schenectady, NY). "Even if you don't talk, there will be that many more people who have some idea of who you are as a person."



Academic clubs can also introduce you to faculty and upperclassmen; handy people to know when you need the 411 on which classes and instructors are worth your while. Of course, if the idea of spending hours of your free time discussing Euclidian geometry with senior math majors leaves you dry, there are other options.



"Find a good professor who cares about your brain," adds Wagner. "Stop by office hours and let them know who you are. When they recognize you in class, you will feel a sense of belonging."



Either way, plugging into the academic side of your college experience can help jump start your social life.



Play Ball!


Sitting through two and a half hours of a chem lecture can take a lot out of you. When you feel the need to shake off that academic inertia and recharge your batteries, think sports. So what if you couldn't hit a tennis ball with a racquet the size of a truck? Most schools have intramural programs in basketball, soccer, and softball where talent and ability definitely aren't required.



Once you've signed up to play, getting to know people is automatic. Nothing builds camaraderie like team sports. Whether you end up winning or losing, chances are you'll end up congregating at the local pizza place afterwards.



"Getting to Know You..."


Whether you're trying to sweep your dream babe off his/her feet, or prepping for an entrance interview, you've definitely heard the line "just be yourself." It's good advice; no one will ever be impressed with you if you're pretending to be someone you're not. Sometimes though, there's more to the equation.



When you want to make a good impression, sometimes it's not enough to just be yourself; you have to let people know who you are. That may sound simple, but it's often overlooked. A lot of first-year students get overwhelmed when they come to school. Meeting so many colorful and fascinating people can make you forget how interesting your own life is -- and if you don't think you're interesting, no one else will. A great way to sell yourself is to talk about your summer job. Sure, lifeguarding at the town pool may bore you to tears, but told right, it can sound like you starred in a three-month-long episode of Baywatch.



Of course, you don't want to be one of those people who is constantly talking about himself, but don't be afraid to let others know where you're coming from and what you think.



Say Something!


The hardest part of meeting new people is breaking the ice. Even if you're not normally a shy person, walking up to someone and saying "What's up?" is still a pretty awkward thing to try. Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes; the only thing to do is suck it up and say something. When you hear someone behind you in the registration line mention the pop quiz in psych class, throw in your two cents.



"If you make the effort, you'll be surprised how receptive people will be," remarks New York University junior Jason Danforth. "Even small comments like 'God, the food here stinks' will start conversations really easily," he explains.



Afraid of saying something stupid, or tripping over your tongue? Don't be; even if you do goof, it's not like you're being graded or anything. Besides, life is too short to care about what strangers think of you.



If you remember nothing else, remember this: You're not alone. Everyone is slipping and sliding on social ice during those first few days at school, no matter how cool and confident they look. Making friends and meeting people may seem daunting, but all you have to do is get out and speak up, and people will be paving a path to your dorm room door.


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