You can never escape the conversations about majors or where people are living on campus, but that’s not as weird as you think. Regardless of how mundane those conversations are, each provides the basis for more intimate conversations, even when we least expect it. Fortunately and unfortunately, going to Rome without knowing anyone for four months forced me to revert back to those awkward first year conversations. But again, those conversations, whether it leads to people making fun of one another for acting like an awkward first year or to people realizing they have extremely similar academic paths or personal goals, doesn’t matter. In the end you make connections you otherwise would have shied away from or would have never realized existed.
But, why do these conversations matter? Consider how those conversations make you vulnerable. People realize the situation is uncomfortable and embrace it, so just go with it. The only way the conversation is genuinely uncomfortable is when you don’t just go with the flow and you end up insulting the person you are talking to. Do you really care what professor someone had, or whether or not someone knows where you went to high school? The questions don’t matter, but the answers do. Conversations will inevitably stem from any tidbit of information, no matter how insignificant you find them. One of my best conversations as a first year was asking someone I had just met what their birthday was. We have the same birthday, unfortunately timed during orientation, and got to celebrate together as opposed to hoping either everyone knew, or no one knew. I had a similar conversation with someone I met the other day as we sat and talked on the Spanish steps. We talked about one of my best childhood friends being his good friend at college. I instantly formed connections with both of them and quite frankly, they are some of the only people whose names I remembered during that first week.
One first-year characteristic I tried to avoid adopting this past week was bouncing from group to group. It is important to meet as many people as possible, especially early on, but I find it hard to move around or be a completely free spirit in this context. I held onto the people I met and made connections with. As a group we bounced around and did our best to meet people we hadn’t or went out with people we barely knew. It helps, if you easily get homesick like me, to really put forth the effort to connect with a few people in order to have friends you can see yourself spending a lot of time with early on. In establishing these friends, you can reach out to other groups of friends and ensure that you rarely feel alone or like you are too dependent on one particular person. I believe having one best friend that you rely on and talk to constantly is not something to be ashamed of. However, being abroad has made me start to realize that having a bunch of people I like hanging out with and sitting around for hours with or walking miles and miles with, is essential.
You need people, even if you think you don’t. So, moral of the story, be a first year. Be awkward. Be uncool. Be someone relatable, and most importantly, be yourself.