“Last year in Cultural Connections, I made 30 new friends!” my CC leader reminisced on the last day of my pre-orientation program. All the other pre-frosh smiled as though he had just summed up their experience exactly. I panicked and started counting on my fingers. Well, if I included that girl that I talked to on the bus once, it brought me to a grand total of … One. One new friend. Maybe she only counted as half. I made up some excuse to miss the last event of Cultural Connections, a trip to the beach, which would have made my total lack of newfound companions painfully obvious. Instead, I moped in the Yale bookstore all day, mulling over how no one would ever like me and how I was doomed to spend four long, lonely years at Yale.
Over the course of my freshman year, I lived out my self-fulfilling prophecy. I convinced myself that everyone at Yale was so much smarter, better and more fabulous than me, that there would never be a place for me here. Every time an acquaintance failed to morph into a best friend, I blamed myself and my dreadful personality. When I got onto a dance team, I became so overwhelmed by my teammates’ apparent coolness that I could barely squeak out a “hello” whenever I ran into any of them.
Fast forward three years: I’m still pretty shy, but I have chipped away significantly from this pesky trait’s ability to keep me from experiencing Yale life to the fullest. Don’t get me wrong: shyness is still something that I have to battle pretty frequently. I even get shy when meeting new freshmen! (You all are supposed to be intimidated by me, not the other way around!) I know from brutal firsthand experience that Yale can seem like no place for the shy, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the years.
It is very tempting to sit around and think about how many friends everyone else has and how you have no one. Here’s a secret: Everyone in college wants to make it appear that they have a ton of friends and are hanging out all the time, but the truth is that even the most outgoing Yalie probably has those nights where they just sit in their bed watching Netflix movies. Other people’s social lives are never as perfect as they seem, so stop comparing and focus on your own life.
Don’t cling to your friends from home. They are always going to be an important part of your life. Be there for each other, but stop yourself from spending all your evenings on Skype instead of with your non-virtual Yale peers. Also, realize that the fact that you made such great friends in high school proves that you are capable of meeting new people — it will only be a matter of time before you feel that level of closeness with Yalies here.
Coming from the master of ducking and avoiding, I can tell you that a simple, “Hey! How are you?” paired with a confident smile goes a long way in making you feel less shy. Even if you just met someone briefly, showing them that you remember them will make both of you feel good and spice up your visits to Bass Café and walks across Cross Campus.
Sit with people you don’t know in the dining halls. You’re young, cute and lost-looking, so take advantage of it and force yourself to meet new people. Most Yalies will be more than happy to chat with you; in fact, you’ll probably do them the favor of boosting their ego a little!
Don’t know what to say? Ask someone about themselves and they’ll go nuts. You might even draw another shy person out of their shell by giving them a chance to open up. Looking back on my Yale years, being approached by someone who seemed genuinely interested in me made all the difference in the world. You don’t have to be outgoing to brighten someone’s day; you just have to take an interest.
Don’t stay in all the time. I’m not telling you to hit up Toad’s every Wednesday and Saturday, but I am suggesting that you go out and have as many diverse experiences as possible. You might not come back with any new best friends or love interests, but it sure beats whatever the hell you were planning on doing alone in your dorm room on a Friday night. Give yourself a shot and you might just have a great time — and even if you don’t, know that you have four years of weekends ahead to make up for it.
Above all, stay confident. You have to be your own friend before being anyone else’s. Don’t be too hard on yourself, applaud all of your efforts, and accept your shyness as a part of you. If you are comfortable with yourself, other people will be too. And always remember: shyness is not a bad thing — as long as you don’t let it keep you from having the experiences you want.
Shebani Rao is a senior in Silliman College.