A Shy Person’s Guide to University

Starting university is hard, particularly if you are a shy, introverted, or socially anxious person – someone whose voice jumps five octaves higher when conversing with someone new. While it’s a tough place to be, you can find comfort in the fact that you are by no means alone in your feelings of trepidation. You can also find comfort in the fact that, from my experience, there are numerous ways to counter the debilitation of shyness to enjoy and thrive in your first year at university.

Starting university can feel a lot like your first day of high school all over again. However, I quickly learnt that university is not at all like high school and it is likely that, over a short period of time, you will find yourself very different from your high-school-self. The cliché that university allows you to reinvent yourself actually holds a lot of truth, as you are provided with so many opportunities to try new things. You can find places where you are comfortable and meet like-minded people who will enable you to build your confidence in ways that you didn’t know you were capable of.

Having moved from Sydney and knowing no-one, making friends was an unnerving prospect for my shy first-year self. Know that a lot of people are in the same boat, and a lot of people are probably feeling just as anxious as you are. See this as an opportunity. In Sydney, most of my friends started off their studies with pre-established, high school cliques and were far less willing to branch out.

The first and most opportune time to meet people is during O-Week. Though it is unlikely to be the case, you do not want to have to deal with the anxiety of believing that everyone else has already formed impenetrable friendship groups. If you are living on campus, turn up to your college’s O-Week events. Even if you do not immediately find people you click with, making even one friend in O-Week can provide you with a familiar face on campus, and you will lessen the anxiety of finding somewhere to sit in the dining hall or a lecture theatre. A way of achieving this is to set small goals for yourself: attend an event and then reward yourself with alone time afterwards. If you do not feel comfortable enough to go up and introduce yourself or make conversation with someone, a smile always goes a long way and avoids anyone misapprehending your silence or lack of involvement for rudeness or disinterest.

Though often flippantly labelled as ‘easy marks’, for me, the most anxiety-inducing aspect of my first year was tutorial participation. Although I love learning, the prospect of speaking in front of a group of new people was incredibly daunting. A year on, my advice is to just have a go. Though you may feel more comfortable expressing yourself in writing than by speaking, the reality is that tutorial participation is usually overwhelmingly marked based on oral participation. Unfair as it may seem, to fulfil this requirement students must be vocal, ask questions and express their opinions enthusiastically. Your attempts to participate in less obvious or performative ways through active listening, eye contact and taking notes will probably go unnoticed. Find comfort in knowing that the virtues of your reservedness are suited to many other values of university. However, if you want that 10 percent, you can still get it. My advice would be to plan prior to the tutorial so that you can deliver a prepared line of opinion and avoid your tutor prompting you to participate through an unforeseen question. If your course has an online element to participation, capitalise on that.

Although your first steps into the world of tertiary education may seem daunting, you can always find comfort in the fact that so many people harbouring the same feelings and anxieties surround you.

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