Buddy Up

How to find friends and make them love you: Varsity edition

Words: Rosie Goddard | Illustrations: Amber Rose Pretorius

The initial phases of your tertiary education bring with them a mixed bag of experiences. On any given day, you could find yourself holding hands with total strangers during a bizarre ice-breaker activity, lying face down on the floor after a night of triple cane and Creme Sodas or navigating a campus solo when you’re already late and have absolutely no idea where to go. It’s stressful stuff, and on top of this, you’ve got to go out and make a host of new friends that lie outside your regular friendship circles. Wild, I know.

If walking up to strangers and starting a conversation makes you feel like a deer in the headlights, you’re not alone. And the magical thing about orientation is that almost every other person is dealing with the same crippling insecurities as you are.

To aid you in your quest, we’ve put together some tried and tested tips that’ll hopefully minimise awkward silences and maximise your friendship circle. Fail you might, but carry on you must, until you find some mates who can stand to be around you for more than 5 minutes (and vice versa). There’ll be happy times, sad times, and times when you want to melt into the ground due to your own dignity-defying behaviour. But hopefully, you’ll come out the other side with a solid group of friends to join you on this wonderful journey towards self-discovery and, more importantly, to help you answer some of life’s most immediate and pressing questions. Namely, which of your lecturers is the hottest and which stall sells the best toasted sandwich.

First impressions

Because everything happens at a much faster pace during varsity orientation, first impressions mean even more than they do in the real world. You’ve only got a short window to cast as wide a net as possible before everyone settles down into their new friendships and you become part of the furniture (no pressure, just mixed metaphors). This means getting on your freshest gear and presenting the best version of yourself. It also means being a nice, kind, authentic person and throwing out sincere compliments to anyone who’ll take them.

Things to bring: Killer stationery, a backpack, extra pens, a positive attitude.

Things to save until week two, or, until you’ve been accepted into the bosom of a like-minded friendship group: Bare feet and pyjamas, inviting people to Tiger Tiger, revealing your obsession with psytrance, extreme religious views, getting blackout drunk, telling the world how much you love Justin Bieber (jk – say it loud and proud).

In short – be nice, dress well and attempt to keep it tidy. While you’re not going to make all of your friends in these first few weeks, you’ll certainly make some long-lasting impressions. Just ask “Sir Chunderlot” – the drunk guy that vomited out the window of our moving UCT orientation bus in 2009 (#peopledontforget).

Disclaimer: Nickname was not created or appointed by me.

Conversation starters

When you arrive at varsity or college, mundane items such as pens or lighters take on an invaluable new role – that of the conversation starter. Whether you’re heading to the food court for a smoke or attending a lecture, forgetting the essential tools you need to get anything done will help you enter into conversation with a new acquaintance of your choice. Throw in a question or two about their course and you’ll get a good indication as to whether your light banter will continue. The best part? If things are about to get awkward, you can make a break for it with your pride and dignity intact, or, pretend you really want to concentrate on the lecture (read: live silently with the shame of being shut down for the next 45 mins).

Note: This does not work in any form of library and will be met with a hateful, crushing stare.

Do your research

Businesses stalk future employees, we all stalk potential love interests, and you’re about to put your well-honed skills to good use by stalking fellow classmates on all forms of social media. Chances are that you might discover a mutual friend or interest which you can nonchalantly work into a conversation if the moment presents itself. This method of research can also help you assess whether you and your new friend are compatible. There’s nothing worse than building up three weeks’ worth of friendship to discover that your new tut buddy Eric has a goldfish fetish and a propensity for making offhand racist remarks. That’s a good three weeks of time and effort out the window.

And while a little detective work goes a long way, just remember to keep it casual. After a drink or two you may want to comment on the pretty dress your new friend wore to Greece (in 2012) but you probably shouldn’t. It’s tricky to recover once you’ve entered weirdo territory.

“Aren’t you in my class?”

Along with your newfound university freedom comes a nightlife agenda with its own complex set of behavioural guidelines. For the sake of this point, we’ll be touching on a sub clause I like to call: bumping into people you study with whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Case study 1: You’re out with your mates and from across the bar you spot someone from  your tutorial. While clumsily barging your way through the crowd, introducing yourself and going into banter overdrive may seem like a good idea, when you ignore them in your tutorial the next day because you’re too ashamed of your brazen self, you will realise that it was not. To add insult to injury, the awkwardness will continue to mount for the rest of the semester due to your stiflingly close proximity, lack of eye contact and the shared memory of you inviting them to your digs/res for dinner.

Moral of the story? If you decide to befriend a fellow classmate after seven tequilas, follow through at varsity, even if you want to curl up and die. Some light, course-related chit chat is always a good option, and you can throw in some self-depreciating humour for good measure. If they’re going to discover that you have a drunk alter-ego, they may as well find out now.

Timing is everything

Flying solo in the first few weeks can seem a little intimidating so your arrival time is everything, whether you’re heading to a lecture, chill area, canteen or a tut. Arrive too early and you risk sitting alone, arrive too late and you’ll have to sit anywhere you can find a space (usually right in front of the lecturer, next to the failed tut friend you can’t bring yourself to speak to or beside the guy at the back wearing flip flops and socks).

Breezing in a casual 10 mins after you’re meant to have arrived (but before the lecture starts) will give you the luxury of deciding exactly where you want to sit. As for who to sit next to? Pick a friendly face and hope for the best. Best case scenario? You’ll end up meeting someone either super intelligent (hello study partner) and/or super sociable (hello after-hours adventure buddy). Worst case? Refer to point two: conversation starters.

Join a society

If you really want to up your game, join a club or society. Sure, you want to chose one that’ll further your career or personal education, but you’re also there to meet like-minded people, so pick accordingly! While some of us can hold our own in a Business Round Table or the Engineers Without Borders Club, the rest of us will probably have to choose something a little less… daunting. Play to your strengths and passions, whether they include drinking wine, staring at birds, helping others, singing, sports or saving the environment (hello, humanitarian hotties).

For lack of a more inspired idea, I joined the Tennis Society, in part due to my undying love for Roger Federer. I didn’t exactly pick up a racquet, but I did manage to knock over an entire table of drinks at the annual club party which resulted in a security guard escorting me out with a girl I’d met 10 minutes prior. In fact, this may have been the moment we cemented our friendship, so all in all, I’d say mission accomplished.