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THE UK: Once you arrive

'It’s okay to feel lonely': Making new friends

Student Blogger Emilia shares what it was like as an American student in a British university to make new friends. Read on and learn from her experience.


It’s common to worry about making new friends when you’re moving away to study, whether in your own country or further away. You’re leaving behind the network of close friends who you’ve known for years, and in some ways starting all over again. This month, Emilia takes us through her experience making new friends:


‘Making new friends at university is stressful. Whether you’re a home student or an international student, or whether you’re studying a popular course or have few course mates, everyone is looking for a great group of friends. During the months leading up to university and the first anxiety-filled weeks, I thought about making friends, but I didn’t obsess over it. I had always made friends relatively easily in the past and I didn’t see any reason why university should be any different.  It wasn’t.  At least, at first it wasn’t.


In the beginning, I met friends in halls. I chose to live in a catered hall partly because sharing meals, bathrooms and thin walls with other students seemed like the easiest way to meet new people. On the Sunday we moved in there were plenty of students milling about; some with their parents, some huddling with people they just met for protection; and some others laughing with friends from school. After my parents helped me decorate my room — we put my clothing in the dresser — I saw plenty of people chatting on the quad. I took a deep breath for courage and went out there to talk to them. 


It was easy. Everyone needed a friend during those initial weeks and striking up a conversation didn’t take much effort. You were all starting university so that could fuel a hundred discussions. Soon, however, I missed having a safety blanket of close friends.


Back then everyone was super friendly. It was as if we were being marked on how much we could smile at people and how many random conversations you could strike up. Everyone you saw was a potential best mate. I talked to the people across the corridor and to the people who were queuing up for the bus back to halls. I became friends with some and others I never spoke to again.


Meeting people at the beginning of university is easy, but it becomes harder. After all, we are searching for a group. We don’t want to spend every dinner talking to someone new, as if interviewing for a competitive position. For better or for worse, I settled into a routine of spending time with the same people after a few weeks.  They became my friends by default. 


While I’m still friendly with a handful of people who I met during my first term at university, it’s safe to say that they aren’t my closest friends. It’s sad but true: in the temptation to make new friends, we’ll often settle for people who are nice, but lack common interests. You deserve more. You deserve to work to make real friends with whom you have something in common.


Join societies that interest you! Talk about more than just university! Don’t be afraid to sit at a new table in your dining hall or invite your course mate back to dinner in your flat! There are so many ways to have a wide circle of friends that are obvious only in retrospect. If I could go back to those early days, I would let myself know that it’s okay not to find my best friend straight away. After all, real relationships take time to develop. It’s okay to feel lonely. Everyone does, at least to a degree.


You may notice that I barely discussed the cultural difference between my potential friends and me. I didn’t really notice it either. Sure, I got a thrill ordering a drink at my hall bar — though I did always need to ask the person next to me what they were ordering. I didn’t always understand the television references, but I picked up quickly. If the differences ever felt overwhelming I tried to gently remind myself that I would have felt similar differences in the USA. University will introduce everyone to a new culture. I know my northern friends felt a cultural gap between them and their southern peers. At least being an American was a talking point.


Making friends at university will happen naturally, but it’s a process that’s tempting to rush. You’re an interesting person with ideas to share; who wouldn’t want to have you as a best friend?! Yet it’s important to remember not to feel desperate. You may think you won’t feel totally settled until you have a best friend and — while that may be true — it takes time to feel settled. Just remember to take each day at a time, smile, share your true self and you will come up with a great group of friends, even if it takes a bit of trial and error.’


Learn more about the University of Bristol


Read our tips to starting conversations with other students

Read Emilia's previous blog post on study culture in a new country

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About Author

Emilia Morano-Williams is a fourth year student of Italian at the University of Bristol, though she comes from New York. When not studying, she writes a travel/coffee blog, works as an international ambassador for her university and works as social media manager for Sweet Lemon Media.


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