Making New Friends in College and Beyond

Not everyone will like you, and that's okay. You can't please everyone and shouldn't try to, either. This article will teach you to become more self-aware of how you communicate and interact with others.

By Norrell Edwards — November 28, 2022


Making New Friends in College and Beyond

Starting at a new school can be nerve-wracking. You have to worry about adapting to a new environment, making new connections and friends, and trying to "succeed." I have started at enough new jobs, academic programs, and communities to know how difficult and unpredictable this cycle can be. But, like anything else—the more practice you have, the better you will get at adjusting.

Beginning again in any new environment means learning that space's unwritten social customs and culture. Further, you have to consider how you will fit into the space, what fitting in means, and if you even want to do that. Moving between different spaces can mean letting go of old behaviors that served you in the past. This all sounds vague and ambiguous, so let me give you an example.

As I went through college, I learned that I didn't have to compete with my peers. We were all in our own lane. This was opposite of what I had experienced in high school.

I went to a large public high school outside New York City that offered many academically rigorous classes. Many of my peers from those classes went to some of the top colleges in the country. Unquestionably, there was an atmosphere of elitism and competition at my high school that transferred even socially. You could accrue social capital and respect by convincing people of your intelligence, holding your own in a spirited debate, and coming up with the wittiest condescending remarks. As one of the few Black students amongst mostly White peers, I often felt the need to prove that I was smart enough and belonged in those spaces. I had sharpened my tongue for clever comebacks and mastered the art of bitingly dry humor.

While sarcasm and condescension had worked in high school, I learned that I had to be more thoughtful about how I wielded those language styles around new people I was just getting to know.

Looking back, I realize now that “proving my intelligence” as a young Black woman had become a defense mechanism. A defense mechanism is a psychological strategy deployed to help you cope with a situation. Even when there were no ostensible challenges, I felt compelled to show I was smart. In college, when confronted with new situations that made me uncomfortable—I turned to sarcasm and condescension to assuage my anxiety. However, I had not realized how my tone or 'smart remarks' might come off to new people I encountered. A few months into my study abroad program in Paris, my new friends confessed they had not liked me at first. I had come off haughty and irritable. I was unintentionally making others feel small. In the end, I still made friends, but I started from a deficit, having made a poor first impression.

Instead of beating myself up about accidentally saying or doing the wrong things, I have focused on improvement. Over time, I have learned to communicate more honestly, openly, and thoughtfully. Now, when I meet new people, I start finding common ground with them instead of difference, derision and/or competition.

We all have unintentional communication styles or gestures that might turn us off to others. As you grow in knowing and understanding yourself better—you can learn what these things are and work to change them (if you want. Anything you do is up to you). The point isn't to change yourself to meet everyone's expectations and desires. I'm still sarcastic. I'm just more thoughtful about the who and where I use my sarcasm with.

Even still, not everyone will like you, and that's okay too. You can't please everyone and shouldn't try to, either. The key is to become more self-aware of how you communicate and interact with others. That way, you can decide whether to continue with those communication styles and habits or form new ones. As long as you feel certain you've put your best foot forward, whatever that means or looks like to you, that's all that matters.

Norrell Edwards

Norrell Edwards

Norrell Edwards is a scholar, educator, and communications consultant for non-profit organizations. Her employment experience and research interests place her work at the nexus of global Black identity, cultural memory, and social justice. Norrell graduated with a BA in English Literature from Hunter’s College followed by a PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park in 20th and 21st Century Black Diaspora Literature.
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