Education & CareersRelationships

Finding “Community” in College

College can be one of the most exciting times of your life, but it can also get quite lonely at times.

I remember when I was deciding which college to go to, I reached out to a former mentor of mine to take a tour at the UC Berkeley campus. Once I had got off BART and was walking toward our meeting spot, I couldn’t help but notice how many people walked by themselves. In high school, I always had a walking buddy on the way to my classes or I would see people walking with others constantly. So, the idea of “walking alone” seemed like a foreign concept to me. And I remember telling myself that maybe Berkeley, or college in general, wouldn’t be for me, because of how much value I put in connecting with others, having friends, and having a community.

Well, guess what? I ended up by myself a huge majority of the time in college.

I was dating someone long distance for a huge chunk of the time, I spent a lot of my “free” time studying or working, and I hung out with friends back home rather than ones in Berkeley itself. I walked to classes on my own and reflected often, but I found myself sad often. Like no one was there for me. And I couldn’t help but blame myself for the situation I was in.

Why is community so important to have? A community supports you, and in a largely new/intimidating setting, support will help more than hinder. I chose to be involved primarily in the Pilipinx Community, though my active presence in it decreased my last two years of college. Those last two years, I chose to focus more on classes, as I aimed to increase my GPA and gain relevant experience that could help with the jump to grad school (Pre-PA, MPH, M.A. Education, M.S. Psychology, etc.) However, I went back and forth between losing myself and finding the things that made me happy. My sense of community wasn’t as strong as it used to be, and being fully engrossed in academia didn’t align well with me. Nearing graduation, I found that community became relevant again during my time of reflection. Thinking of the people who have stood by me, the family who I worked so hard for, and the younger folx who looked up to me as a leader, I recognized the privileged position I was in and wanted to give back to my community. I felt grounded in support and despite the academic stress and rigor of college, I was able to find peace, connection, and an escape from the idea that we are “just students.” Because we aren’t — we are much more than that.

Honestly, I did a good job meeting new people in the very beginning of college. But I was idealistic and thought that the friends I made were friends forever. And it just doesn’t work that way for everyone. It takes effort to maintain a friendship, and sometimes, that effort can go to the wrong people and other times, that effort can be draining but well worth it in the end.

Part of me wished there was a step by step guide on “How to Find your Tribe in College.” Since I had to piece together all the advice I’ve gotten over the years with the miscellaneous journal entries of reflection I wrote up, I came to the realization that this was a resource I wish I had in the beginning of my college career. Though I can’t guarantee that all of these methods will work for you, here are several different ways you can find “community” in college:

  • Don’t force relationships or connections with people.
    • Allow it to flow organically. If you’re trying to force friendship onto another person, it comes off as ingenuine and those vibes will be sensed by the other person. Now, if you are your authentic self when interacting with others and they still don’t want to connect? They aren’t part of your tribe, and that’s okay.
  • Ask yourself “What is important to my identity?” Then, browse student groups at your school that cater to people that have interests pertaining to your identity.
    • For example, I found being Pilipinx/Filipinx was important to me, so I sought out a community to help me find other people similar. I also joined the mental health community and dance community, though only one of those I ended up staying in. (which is another thing to note… just because you try a community that serves one of your interests, it doesn’t mean it’ll work out for you. See the section on “What do you do if this doesn’t work out?” below.
  • Make the effort to talk to someone new in your discussion or lecture hall.
    • Introduce yourself, smile and. say hi when you see them again, and who knows where things will go from there.
    • I remember going to my discussion classes and just keeping to myself. When I took a leap of faith and said hi to one of the people waiting for the door to open, I found a new buddy to save me a seat everyday Monday and Wednesday during lecture, as well as Thursday for discussion. He helped me with essays and understanding the readings, and we occasionally still talk on social media platforms.
  • If you’re taking STEM courses, consider being part of study groups.
    • You can all benefit from having more than one brain discussing material, plus it can be a consistent way of seeing people in your class.
    • When I was pre-health and took Bio 1A over the summer, I had a study group with my lab partners. We collaborated and talked to each other about lab reports, pre-lab assignments, and studying for Bio 1A midterms as well. It was great having support and community in a fast paced course at Berkeley.
  • Go to high density areas, like the gym, student center, coffee shops, libraries or student events. Again, think of what’s important to your identity and see if you can find common ground by striking a conversation.
    • I found some community members at libraries and student events, because that’s where I found people who have similar interests to me outside of the classroom. When you stay in the same areas and stick with the same people, you don’t allow the opportunity to meet new people to happen (or you’re less open to it). Taking initiative to go to high density areas is a step forward to having yourself be seen. (Note: You can also go to frat parties or general kickbacks through people you already know, but I wasn’t much of a partier in college, though I was open to meeting people that way).
  • And for my shy readers, I see you. I had a very small community in college, and I was really scared to socialize. Do things at your own pace and feel out peoples’ vibes. Listen to your intuition.
    • I had a lot of “friends” in the beginning and slowly lost connection with them. I realized that when I forced myself to salvage the relationship, it wasn’t the type of community that was serving me. I just “thought” it would serve me. And when I did things at my own pace, in my own way, the right people came and stayed in my life.

Now, even with tangible tips in your hands, what do you do if this doesn’t work out?

  • Ground yourself in the community you have back at home.
    • Whether it’s your friends from high school or family, focus on what you already have and your new focus will open up the opportunity for you to feel clear minded and confident enough to attract the right people into your life.
  • Remember that things take time.
    • You will not find a community overnight. It takes time to establish rapport and connection. You don’t want to rush it.
  • Seek out resources available at your school, whether it be a counselor, a major advisor, or peer advisors.
    • There might be different methods that they’ve found to help build community.
  • Don’t give up.
    • This goes along with the whole “things take time,” but honestly, it does. If you give up too soon, you may miss the chance to let something that’s in the process of developing, become something new, or you’ll miss the chance for someone to reach out if you suddenly become unavailable and unreceptive to a community of people.

And to end this blog post, I wanted to give some mini love notes to those of you reading:

To those in the post grad process – I know it isn’t easy, and I can relate. This journey may seem lonely, but you are not on your own. Many people are still figuring things out, just like you are. But hold up your accomplishments: You graduated. You did it. And I am so proud of you.

To those trying to graduate college – Remain patient. Spread love. Embody kindness. Know that your worth is not defined by your grades. And that asking for help is not a sign of weakness.

To those aspiring to go to college – Connect with mentors or people in positions that motivate you to be your best self. If it’s difficult to find someone, I am a resource for you. Remember, no one can offer you something you’re looking for if you never express your needs/desires in the first place.

And to those who feel college is not for them – Your feelings are valid. Whether you feel that universities weren’t built for people like you or if you feel that a degree isn’t necessary for your line of work, your journey is your own. No matter the road taken, I know you’re going to prove everyone wrong and show how powerful and brilliant you truly are.

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