The friends you make at university help you forge your identity, says Assistant Professor Markus Schafer (photo by Johnny Guatto)

Back to school: the friendship challenge

The arrival of a new school year is an exciting time for new and returning students, yet there’s always a hint of anxiety – especially when it comes to making new friends.

Assistant professor of sociology Markus Schafer has some advice on that score.

“As people age they tend to have more niche friends,” explains Schafer. “These are friends you share a narrow interest with – which can be developed through work or social networks.

“Domains of life become more segmented as people go through adulthood. Relationships can be more important in one aspect of life, and not as important in others,” says Schafer. “So it may be that you have these segmented friends – a friend for cocktails, a golfing friend, a childcare friend, and that can be okay.

By contrast, being young and in university creates a unique opportunity to form friendships, says Schafer, adding many students are able to meet people in their age group who are still without heavy commitments of work and family.

"It’s a unique time in many people’s life course where they are away from the home they grew up in, and, in many cases, living alone for the first time,” says Schafer. “It gives them the opportunity to branch out and meet other people they may not have met before.” 

Groups such as the Student Life Community Crew at U of T seek to ease the transition for new or shy students by providing helpful tips and connecting with students across all campuses.

"Joining clubs is a way to meet students across our three campuses who share the same interests,” adds Chris Yu, a member of the Student Life Community Crew. “You gain a lot of skills joining clubs and it is a great way to balance out your academics.”

Yu, who’s been a Frosh leader for two years and an executive this year, believes the annual September orientation events are crucial for first-year students. 

“The beginning of the school year is a time when all incoming students are nervous, whether it be doubting their ability to make friends, to fit in, or even perform academically,” says Yu. “This is where Frosh comes in, packed with icebreakers and activities to help new students bond.”

Whether students are 18 and fresh out of high school or older adults enrolled in continuing education courses, friends can transform the university experience, says Schafer.

“Friends are very important for navigating the university years, for developing identity,” says Schafer. “And often times, the friends people make in university years are the friends they consider the closest.”

But there’s no pressure, says Khevna Dave, another member of the Student Life Community Crew. 

“Don’t be afraid of approaching new people and take initiative to start a conversation,” Dave says. “Most people are equally afraid of approaching new students, but if you take initiative you will often find an equal eagerness of the other student to befriend you.”

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