I’d already made my bed and unpacked my clothes. My parents had left campus and were on their way home, leaving me sitting alone at my desk. I admired the dorm around me and was pleased with how smoothly move-in had gone. Five minutes later, I frowned. What now?
Zero week is an awkward time for new students. While planned activities keep you busy, the blank spaces between checking out the activity fair and getting dinner with your floormates are difficult to fill when you are in a new place with no friends.
I stuck like a barnacle to my roommates during zero week, as many freshmen do. We attended as many events as we could to meet as many people as we could. Three years later, I think back to all the people I met, but I can only remember one: EE Guy.
At some point, EE Guy told me his real name, and at another point, I remembered that name. However, I now only remember how he came to be EE Guy in my head.
I met him at Hedrick Hello, an event organized for residents of Hedrick Summit, Hedrick Hall and Hitch Suites to mingle. With my suitemate, I stood in a large circle full of unfamiliar faces. I was nervous about being around so many strangers, but also excited to meet new people. He introduced himself with the standard name, hometown and prospective major. He stuck out in my memory because he said he was an “EE major.” It was my first time hearing electrical engineering abbreviated as “EE,” so like the dork I am, I was mildly impressed by his knowledge of such fancy lingo.
A few days later, I walked down the hill toward De Neve Dining Hall with my roommate and a large group of freshmen I had just met. On the way, we encountered a group going the opposite direction. EE Guy was in that group. We made eye contact, and after a few unsure moments of staring at each other as our groups neared one another, I decided to casually confirm he was in fact the same guy I had met.
“EE Guy?” I blurted out. He nodded, smiled and asked, “Chemistry girl?” I returned his nod, we waved to each other, and we parted ways.
After that, I kept crossing paths with EE Guy. Throughout fall quarter, I would see him, make awkward eye contact and smile uncertainly. The fact that he was clearly just as uncomfortable, but still smiled back enthusiastically, was my saving grace.
Alas, these moments came to an end when I forgot what he looked like over winter break. I have always had trouble remembering faces, and without a specific context for my encounters with him, a few weeks of not seeing EE Guy was enough for him to become a memory. I am no longer a chemistry major, I have no idea if he is still an electrical engineering major and I still can’t remember his real name. He will always be EE Guy to me, and when I think back to my first few months at UCLA, my encounters with him take up a surprisingly large portion of my musings.
At the time, those encounters were a source of social discomfort, but looking back, I’m fond of the memories. As awkward as those moments were, I enjoy thinking about what I was like – and realizing how much I have grown and changed since then.
Normally, I would chalk this experience up to my own social awkwardness, but I know I am not the only student with a story like this. However, I have since learned that these uncomfortable encounters can turn into a real friendship.
Third-year world arts and cultures student Madeleine Pauker, a Daily Bruin editor, told me how she and another woman on her first-year floor lurked on one another’s Twitter accounts without interacting much in person. Eventually, she suggested getting dinner together and found out they got along just as well in person. Two years later, they are still great friends and are living together this year.
Freshman friendships can lead to either missed connections or lifelong pals. If you are a freshman and you fear finding yourself in a situation as awkward as mine, do not panic. Almost every freshman comes to UCLA trying to turn strangers into friends. You are not alone. Many of those week-zero connections never amount to true friendship, and you’ll be left with a lot of EE Guys. Once classes and clubs start up, you will discover your niche and community on campus, and you will look back at those early situations and laugh. Don’t worry – you’ll find your squad.
But just in case you are nervous about making friends as a college student, here are some tips for making the most out of your early encounters at UCLA. Good luck. Our thoughts are with you.
Step 1. Be prepared
You’ve arrived at UCLA, moved into your closet-sized triple and said your tearful goodbyes. After sitting by yourself for a couple of minutes, you realize that at some point you’re going to have to engage in human interaction that isn’t Snapchatting your friends from high school. What do you do? How do you make friends at UCLA?
Well, the first step is to be prepared for the classic freshman interaction that goes something like this:
You: Hi, my name’s Joe Bruin, what’s yours?
Another lonely first year: I’m Steven, where are you from?
You: I’m from near Long Beach, how about you?
Steven: Oh, I’m originally from Imalone. It’s in Wisconsin. You’ve probably never heard of it.
You: Yeah I haven’t … what’s your major?
Steven: Oh I’m undeclared, you?
You: Same …
… and so on, so awkwardly forth. To avoid this common scenario, you need to prepare some short, interesting answers to the inevitable “name, major, hometown” trinity of questions. OK, so it’s hard to spice up the answer to the first of those, but for major and hometown, you could try to make them guess where you’re from or tell them why you chose said major (cue your stand-up comedy routine). You’ll also need to do a quick Google search to brush up on your pop culture and UCLA knowledge – remember that Taylor Swift’s upcoming album is called “reputation” (yes, it’s uncapitalized) and you should call yourself a first-year, not a freshman.
Step 2. Choose your friend-making zone
You need to identify a prime friend-making location – an ideal friend zone, if you will. During zero week, there are plenty of awkward large-group scenarios that UCLA staffers organize to help you make friends, such as floor meetings and orientation events. However, many people don’t feel comfortable speaking up at such events, so it’s OK to be that person at the back of the room who isn’t at the heart of the banter. Going to the activities fair during zero week with your roommates or a couple of new friends-in-waiting can help you get to know what common activities you’re into. Plus, the club members manning the booths are often aggressively friendly and will be excited that you’re also into salsa dancing, volunteering in Ecuador or making indie films.
Another place to make friends could be in Greek life. Some Bruins may feel like they’re missing out on part of the college experience if they don’t try out a sorority or fraternity. The process for joining a house usually begins during zero week. It’s just one way to find a smaller community at UCLA and narrow down your potential pool of friends from 5,000 to 100. You’ll get matching T-shirts, and the opportunity to attend a lot of events with your chapter, from beach bonfires to date parties, to help you form friendships.
Most likely, your friends will either come from people you live with or people in clubs you join, because you see them often and have things in common. You might strike up a conversation with a classmate after a lecture, but odds are you’ll never see them again once the class ends. But don’t let that stop you from asking the person sitting next to you where they got that dazzling black composition notebook.
Step 3. Identify your potential victim … I mean, friend
Think like a mamma grizzly and prepare to impose yourself on the pack of young Bruins in front of you. Find a place from which to stalk the pack, such as behind a bush or in a particularly long patch of grass. Proceed to circle the pack in a crouched position. When they notice you approach, identify the weakest members that are in desperate need of friendship.
OK, in all honesty, observing noncreepily from a distance can allow you to see if this group of people is your kind of crowd. Are they talking about all those parties you wanted to go to? Is that your scene? Are they talking about pulling all-nighters playing League of Legends? Is that the sort of thing you want to want to lose sleep over? Do they remind you of friends you had back home? Do they come across as their natural selves?
So many people want to become someone else in college, but the genuine friends you make will be people who are comfortable with you. They won’t put on an act in front of you. Friend researchers find that supporting each other’s “social identity” – a person’s sense of who they are based on their group membership – will predict whether you will become best friends with a person, even when that identity shifts over time.
Step 4. Work out what the heck you’re going to say to them
What are you going to say to your potential friend? What’s going to be your secret weapon that’s going to seal the deal? The key often lies in finding a common ground, whether it’s the sports team you both support, that band that you both jam to, that high school activity you both loved, that fidget spinner addiction you just can’t kick – whatever! Identify your friendship deal breakers and test them out. See whether one of the thousands of other new Bruins shares your passion. You don’t need to be a stats major to figure out the chances are pretty high that someone will also like Kendrick Lamar or the Lakers.
Step 5. Engage your friend in one-on-one conversation
Your hands are washed, your mouth is fragrant, your teeth are freshly whitened, you feel like a million dollars … it’s time to step into action!
If you just hang out in big groups, realistically you’re not going to make those lifelong friends that your parents tell you about – you know, the ones that you’ll be sharing vacation houses with on Lake Tahoe, barbecuing on the back porch while your kids and their kids take turns diving off the pier and flirting with each other when they get to a certain age. Engage in some one-on-one convos.
Most of the meaningful friends you make at UCLA come as a result of spending an extended period of time one-on-one with someone. That way the conversation can flow organically from subject to subject, and you give yourself enough time to move beyond “Hi, my name’s Jake, what’s yours?” and “You’re from where? Oh I think I’ve heard of it,” and “Oh so you’re a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major … cool!”
Step 6. Follow up!
When is too soon to text someone back after a first date? Fortunately, with making friends the same question is slightly less anxiety-inducing. If you hit it off with someone, don’t be afraid to ask if they want to hang at Hedrick Study, wander through Westwood, find their classes together, or maybe, if you’re feeling adventurous, go toiletry shopping at Target. Maybe get that freshman 15 started at Diddy Riese, Rendezvous or Rubio’s. According to a Northern Arizona University study, doing things together is the part of friendship that makes you the happiest – shocking! So do what makes you happy, and bring a friend along.
Step 7. Don’t sweat it if you don’t make friends immediately
I barely see the “friends” I made in my first couple of weeks at UCLA.
While I know people who have lived with their roommates for four years, and others who met their best friend on day one, it’s totally fine if that doesn’t happen to you! I cannot stress enough the importance of not panicking if you don’t immediately meet that lifelong friend that you’ll eventually move in with.
Also, remember this isn’t high school. You don’t need to be cliquey and aggressive toward people who don’t like the same things as you and view the world differently. We respect people of all backgrounds and beliefs at UCLA, so be open and prepared to meet people who will challenge your views and expand your horizons. Don’t lock yourself into one group of friends, and when you do find find true friendship, make time in your schedule to reinforce that bond. After freshman year, time with friends feels as precious as Bruin Plate’s vegan brownies and as rare as a UCLA football victory, so don’t waste it!