When I chose to come to a big school like UMass, a major source of anxiety for me was thinking about how I was going to branch out and make new friends. I come from a small town, I'm an introvert, my three best friends live in my neighborhood, and we’ve been in the same school since we were in first grade. Being away from them and everyone else I was close to from home was a legitimate concern.
Luckily, that's a concern I don’t have anymore. My resident assistant (RA) gave me the best advice I’ve received about seeking new friends: "Sign up for things you’re interested in. Odds are, among the other 22,000 kids here, there’ll be a few that are interested in the same thing." That’s your first icebreaker. You now have something in common with everybody else in that group. From there, it really isn’t that hard to ask questions, go out to dinner, and get to know each other.
In my case, athletics have always been my passion. Almost every friend I made from elementary school through high school came through playing a sport together. It wasn’t something I was conscious about; it just kind of happened. Sports have a great way of uniting people, whether you’re playing, watching, or debating them. They always entertained me, so naturally I clung to the people I shared that bond with.
When thinking about what my RA said, I thought to myself, “Why stop what I’ve always done?” I picked up intramural basketball last year with one friend and seven randomly drawn teammates I had never met. Although we didn’t win very often, it was still a ton of fun. Just being out on an open court, breaking a sweat, being on a team with a group of guys, and having some laughs was something I had missed.
I've been able to learn a lot from my teammates. All are at different stages of their college careers. All have lived in different areas, studied different majors, and gone abroad to different places. I never would have met any of them if it weren’t for intramural basketball. Now I have a group of guys I can always meet up with to watch a Celtics game.
This same strategy goes for any interest you may have. There are 488 (registered) clubs and organizations at UMass. These organizations cover everything from politics to religion, ethnic groups, greek life, arts, sports, clubs within your major, and really anything else you can imagine. Put yourself out there, and you'll find a group of people you have something in common with. Odds are you'll have more than just that thing in common with someone there.