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Introverted, no more: How the friends I made at uni released me from my comfort zone

Samantha Chew

Thu Apr 06 2017


Living away from home for the first time was daunting, and as an introvert I remember feeling insanely anxious about the prospect of making new friends. Attempting so in classes felt especially hard — each class always had different people, making it incredibly difficult to find someone doing the exact same classes as I was.

Looking back now, that first semester at Monash was perhaps one of the loneliest experiences I’ve had since moving to Melbourne.

But then came second semester.

On the first day of my new journalism class, I was seated next to a girl who kindly asked if she could borrow a pen from me. That exchange soon led me to a group of friends that I am now terribly grateful for.

This girl introduced me to her friend, who eventually brought another girl into our group too. We all happened to be doing similar courses, took some of the same classes and quickly bonded. We stuck together as this sisterly foursome. And honestly? This group of amazing girls have impacted me more than I ever could have imagined.

The friendship started out a bit awkwardly but eventually we hung out every single chance we got. We were all from different backgrounds — among us was an Australian, an Indian, an Indonesian and myself, a Malaysian — but it did not bother us one bit. In fact, exploring the differences in our cultures was enlightening and enjoyable. We kept each other awake during lectures, had fun going out at night and most recently, we even traveled together.

One of the girls had wanted to go somewhere overseas for her birthday and, after considering the student budget we were all under and the timing, we found ourselves in Singapore. While it may not have been a big trip like backpacking across Europe, travelling with new friends was always going to be a gamble. I knew I’d have to compromise on a few things in favour of what the group wanted to do. Yet knowing  this, I went anyway and it turned out to be a great trip, one that I’ll remember for a long time.

Being alone was my comfort zone and these girls helped bring me out of it. Now, I no longer hesitate to speak out in class or even say hi to the girl sitting next to me and that is thanks to the courage my group, the Art Losers as we call ourselves, has given me.

Image by: Samantha Chew

These girls have been my support group and while I am fortunate to have them in my life, I can understand and empathise with those who might not have found their people yet.

We all know how overwhelmingly lonely it can get as an international student. Coming from overseas to study on your own is a brave decision on all accounts but it will take time to settle down and make close friends. Don’t rush straight into it and allow yourself to be patient, otherwise you may end up feeling even more lonelier than before.

Of course, the starting point for many of these friendships happens usually within the first few classes in that semester. Make the effort to talk to the person sitting next to you or take initiative when a tutor puts you in pairs or groups.

Remember that everyone at the start wants to make friends and mingle. Don’t let that little voice in your head talk you out of saying ‘hi’ to a stranger. And don’t depend on the friends from your home country and instead explore friendships with new people and new cultures. Trust me, that Australian classmate is just as shy as you are.

Supported by the City of Melbourne through a community grant, this story is part of a year-long PEER Project which aims to help international students build healthy community, explore and find peer-support on issues around identity and gender, discuss common struggles and stereotypes, and gain the confidence to navigate current and future relationships.