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Meeting New People in a New School/New City


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As September creeps closer and the reality of moving to a new city to start my Graduate degree sinks in, I find myself worrying about how I'm going to settle into the city/school socially. I do have a SO but he will not be moving with me (instead we're hoping he'll be able to work in some decently long visits). I don't know anyone in the city I'll be going to and I haven't met anyone in my program.

The reason I'm worried is because I'm very shy, especially in certain circumstances. If I'm confident in the material, I can give a great speech or presentation, but as soon as it comes to something like striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to me, I'm hopeless. Either I never work up the courage to start or join a conversation, or when I do I'm so nervous that I end up looking like a fool. That being said, when I'm around people I know and am comfortable with, I am very confident, so it's not like it's impossible for me to relate to people.

I just know that in my undergrad degree, I didn't become friends with anyone in my classes. The closest was one or maybe two people from groups I volunteered with that became decent acquaintances/mild friends (but we never had frequent contact). I'm worried that if the same thing happens in grad school, I'll be totally isolated (except for my cat) because I won't have my community of family/friends nearby.

Is there anyone out there, maybe with similar social anxiety and shyness, who has any advice/insight/experiences to share?

Edited by cylon.descendant
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I had a person in my grad school cohort who found it difficult to make friends. She once told me that her counselor suggested that she do things she likes, but in public places. So instead of just sitting in her apartment and reading, go to a coffee shop and read. Seems simple, but she said it helped her a lot.

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I am worried about this as well, but I have decided that if I want to not be lonely in grad school the way I was in undergrad, I have to just really push myself out of my comfort zone for the first few weeks until I establish a group of friends. That means striking up conversations with people I don't know, making an effort to meet my neighbors when I move into my apartment, and accepting any invitations that come my way. I figure it might be uncomfortable, but if I don't attempt to make friends in the beginning, it will be very awkward when I later really want friends and I attempt to strike up a conversation for the first time with someone I have passed a million times without saying anything. 

Because I was nervous about being lonely and miserable, I made it a very important point to find roommates and not live alone. Again, although sometimes I might want to be alone, I am doing this for those times when I really want someone to be there and no one is. My SO served as somewhat of a crutch when I was lonely in undergrad, but he is not moving with me, and a phone call or skype conversation is not fully comforting when I want to be with other people. 

So I guess the advice I am hoping will work for both you and me is to be as friendly as possible from the beginning and push yourself to do as many social things as possible, even if it is exhausting. 

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I'm going to deal with it by doing the residential college thing, just like in undergrad. Going to be living in a building with around 600 other grad students, so I don't imagine I'll have much difficulty meeting people; especially considering my residential college holds tons of events (movie nights, parties, day trips to places in the city e.g. plays and concerts, weekend e.g. snow trips, guest speaker events) throughout the year (the calender on the residential college website shows multiple events every week, and pictures posted on facebook after the fact show that tons of people attend). They also apparently hold a bunch of events at the start of the semester specifically to serve as ice breakers and to make sure new people get to know one another and current students.

 

A very small proportion of grad students seem to want this sort of life (or at least are aware that choosing otherwise may be socially crippling). Most of the people in my potential programs (and the one I've chosen to go with) I met with on the visit days all want to live in their own little off-campus apartments with only a roommate or two who they'll get to know (because it won't be the kind of environment where people get to know their neighbours to a large degree).

 

Then I read all these people on the internet complaining about grad school being lonely. Well no shit Sherlock, you don't say. Moving off-campus during undergrad generally works ok because you've already established friend groups, figured out places you can go and groups you can join to meet people etc. You get the benefits of your own kitchen and space to study/relax/etc without any downsides since you already know a ton of people and the area. But this reasoning doesn't hold when you move to a new area and don't know anyone.

 

If you move into your own little apartment that is, for all intents and purposes, walled off from the rest of the world, you're likely going to get to know very few people. You'll get to know a few roommates, and the people in your program. In contrast, if you live in a residential college of grad students, you'll get to know a ton of people.

 

Housing was one of the single most important decisions to me when it came to deciding where it is that I wanted to pursue my PhD. I wanted to live somewhere where grad students lived as friends rather than strangers, where the community went to great effort to ensure that there is always some event/trip/party on whenever students can find the time.

I'm under no illusions; I'm going to be really busy very often. I'm not always going to have time to do this sort of stuff. But when I do, I want to be able to walk out of my room, across the hall, and into awesomeness. I don't want to be spending half my free time organsing with friends who live elsewhere in the city what we're going to do with the other half. I also don't want 90%+ of my friends to come from my department/program. I'll be spending so much time with them for the next 5 years that I'm going to need the variety. Most importantly, I want to live somewhere that facilitates meeting a ton of interesting people.

 

So my advice is to avoid committing the social suicide of choosing to live independently and "off-campus", at least in the first year. I think a lot of grad students think they are past community living, but don't necessarily recognise that the reason they were able to do so was because they had already established themselves in the area; this will not be the case when starting at a new university in a new location.

 

Anecdotally, I had the time of my life living in a residential college in undergrad. The grad students I know living in residential colleges (or who did so for a year or two before moving out into a standard apartment setting; mirroring what undergrads often do) are also significantly more happy than those who moved straight into apartments or rented houses. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the lack of recognition of the importance of making a firm social bedrock (i.e. by living in a residential college) in a new area before striking out alone (or with a roommate or two who you may or may not have ever met before) is a key reason that graduate students are often such unhappy wrecks.

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I will be moving to a new city and university where I do not know anyone. I have decided to live in a one bedroom apartment in a duplex building (all residents are graduate students) about a block away from campus. There are other apartment complexes in the area and the average resident is a graduate student. While I am worried about the first few weeks being a little lonely, I know it will be because it will be a lot of change at once. 

 

While there were many factors as to why I decided to live in an apartment off campus by myself, I know it will be the right decision for me. Your social life is what you make it. That was something that I learned in college. If I spend all of my time alone in my apartment, then I will not have a lot of acquaintances/friends. If I spend most of my time on campus, doing activities I enjoy, inviting my neighbors to hang out and meeting with my classmates for study sessions in the library or coffee, my apartment becomes a little oasis for when I want to be alone. 

 

While living in a community can make things easier, where your social activities are preplanned and everyone is roughly the same age, it does not work for everyone. Also, that is not how the real world works. People will not be there to organize your life outside of work for you. I see living in an apartment on my own as an adventure and a challenge. Think of all the great people I will get to meet just because I took the extra minute to say hello and ask them how there day was going.

 

***Also, a tip I have learned over the years if you are nervous. People love to talk about themselves. If you aren't sure what to say, ask them where they got those great shoes or why they chose to go into the same program as you. 

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Thanks so much for all of the advice! It's nice to know that there are other people in a similar situation, and to know that they have managed.

 

As far as living in residence goes, this really isn't an option for me. First of all, because I have a cat and leaving him behind is definitely off the table. But regardless of that, it just wouldn't be at all feasible for me as a person. I am very introverted so if I don't have alone time and a space that is totally my own and private, I actually feel more lonely and disconnected. I know this seems counterintuitive, but I'm sure any other introvert would immediately understand what I mean. And that's not a choice or something I need to change about myself, it's just a part of who I am and I'm perfectly okay with it. I couldn't deal with living in a giant hall of people with hardly any privacy in my undergrad, and I can't deal with it now. In fact, even having a roommate is not an option for me, as I really value having my own safe space and know it is necessary for my mental well-being.That being said, one sentiment I do agree with in Arcanen's post is that I do need to put myself in situations where I am going to be able to meet people. For me, though, a better option would be groups and organizations, or maybe even a job with a small time commitment. It definitely is a danger that instead of going out of my comfort zone, I will just hole myself up in my apartment when I'm not at school. I know I need to make sure I don't allow myself to do that.

 

Veggiez, you are very right... I think the way I handle the first few weeks will really set the tone for me, so making sure I get to know a few people off the bat will probably be a big help! 

 

I'm glad I'm not the only one worried about meeting people at grad school... it makes me a little less nervous to approach others as I know that at least some of them will probably be feeling the same way I do!

Edited by cylon.descendant
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I am very introverted so if I don't have alone time and a space that is totally my own and private, I actually feel more lonely and disconnected. I know this seems counterintuitive, but I'm sure any other introvert would immediately understand what I mean. And that's not a choice or something I need to change about myself, it's just a part of who I am and I'm perfectly okay with it.

 

Graduate residential colleges generally aren't like in undergrad, the vast majority of them have one person per room; you get the benefits of living in a community while still having some space that is yours alone.

 

I couldn't deal with living in a giant hall of people with hardly any privacy in my undergrad, and I can't deal with it now.

 

I used to think exactly the same thing. Very private person, couldn't deal with it, didn't want to deal with it etc. Then I tried it and had the absolute best time of my life. Doing something outside of your comfort zone doesn't mean you're forever uncomfortable, it means that the size of your comfort zone increases. This is an example where such an increase in your  comfort zone can be very enriching to your life in general (but it's certainly not the only such example; stepping outside of your comfort zone is the single best way to grow as a person). People who consider themselves as introverts who are scared by the idea of community living are precisely the people who need the experience most, both because they'll grow the most as people as a result, and because they are the most likely to lock themselves in their apartments, never making many friends and becoming the stereotypical depressed grad student. Because while this (from sharingfromafar's post):

 

Your social life is what you make it.

 

is true, it's often very difficult to make much of it as an introvert without encouragement. Living in a residential community gives you that push. You can't help but make friends considering the college takes meals together, has tons of activities together etc.

 

One benefit that I think is important to recognise is how busy we're all going to be as graduate students. It's all well and good to tell yourself how you're going to join a bunch of groups and organisations, but it'll be so easy to fall into the trap of "too busy with work, will do when I have free time" and then "finally free of work, just need a little me time" when you do have time off, such that you never actually do such things. This is particularly true if you consider yourself to be introverted. Living in a residential community means that reaching out to make friends is much less of a big deal, both for when you plan to have time off and spontaneously. It's no longer an imposing "I'm planning on going to an interest meeting for this group in two days", it's "I'm going to eat dinner in the dining hall", or "I'm going to go and read in one of the residential lounges".

 

sharingfromafar:

 Also, that is not how the real world works

 

Who cares how the real world works? We're in grad school.

 

It's the last time we'll ever be able to live this sort of life, we'll be in new and unfamiliar environments and constantly busy. Having preplanned events that are easy to attend (that do not stop anyone from planning their own events, joining other groups etc) is a great benefit.

 

 I see living in an apartment on my own as an adventure and a challenge.

 

Adventure and challenge are good, and living in your own apartment may be the greatest challenge for you. But for many people, particularly those who would benefit the most, the greater adventure and challenge is choosing the option of being part of an active community.

 

Think of all the great people I will get to meet just because I took the extra minute to say hello and ask them how there day was going.

 

This is a reason why living in a residential community is great. There many more people who are open to getting to know strangers, and many more opportunities to facilitate such. While these situations can also happen in apartment living, you're just as likely to get someone who responds to you awkwardly and then goes out of their way to avoid you. People who rent apartments often (as cylon did above) consider their apartments "their own personal space" and do not expect or even want to meet people from that area of their life. It's also much harder to form friendships from such encounters (for example, in a residential community, you can sit down and eat dinner with someone you've only spoken to for a minute before and get to know them properly; such occasions don't really exist to the same degree with apartment living). It's also considerably more difficult to form groups of friends (e.g. who are friends with each other) as opposed to a set of independent friends with apartment living.

 

 

cylon.descendant

First of all, because I have a cat and leaving him behind is definitely off the table.

 

This is practically the only reason for not choosing to live in a residential college I'll accept! :)

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This is practically the only reason for not choosing to live in a residential college I'll accept! :)

 

I thought about it when I moved for my PhD program but, the graduate housing isn't a "residential college" with a common dining area, it's set up as apartments. And, it would've been $150 more per month (not counting having to pay for on campus parking for my car) to live in a 4 person graduate apartment than it was to live a mile from campus in a house with two roommates. There are lots of reasons why people don't choose to live in graduate housing, whether they be personality, cost, the quality of the housing (lackluster in many places), or otherwise. And while you don't have to accept them, you also don't have to be so negative or judgmental about other people's choices.

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the graduate housing isn't a "residential college" with a common dining area, it's set up as apartments

 

I'm not talking about graduate housing in general (as you say, most graduate housing is just a collection of apartments that happen to be majority student occupied), and I recognise that many universities don't have residential colleges among their graduate housing options (which is unfortunate for such schools and students). That said, I do think there are some advantages to standard graduate housing over leasing an apartment in a non-affiliated apartment building and especially a house with regards to meeting new people, but that depends on the areas demographics.

 

 

There are lots of reasons why people don't choose to live in graduate housing, whether they be personality, cost, the quality of the housing (lackluster in many places), or otherwise.

 

I was being facetious in saying that having a cat was the only valid reason. Moving with a SO and/or family is another reason why many choose independent living. I have been as forceful as I have because so many people seem to be in a hurry to move into their own apartment or sharehouse during grad school because it's "what's done", and don't even consider the consequences or alternatives to such choices. This thread is specifically about fitting in socially in a new location and school. It is undeniable that for this purpose, living in a residential college is generally a far superior alternative to living in standard graduate accommodation, non-grad student apartment blocks and share-houses (in that order). Certainly, the standards of the rooms are often lower, lack individual kitchens, are more expensive etc (but none of these things are always true; it varies with residential colleges just as it varies between apartment buildings). This is not to say that it isn't possible to be social if you aren't living in such circumstances (such a sweeping claim would of course be absurd), but it's certainly giving yourself a large obstacle to overcome.

 

I strongly believe that the social benefits of having a proper student community and extensive shared facilities (e.g. gyms, sporting facilities, auditoriums, study rooms, libraries, computer rooms, dining halls etc) outweigh these costs (when they occur). So many grad students seem to loathe grad school (judging from general perceptions on the internet, studies that show depression rates of grad students, and the grad students I've known at the three universities I attended as an undergrad), and I think it's often of their own making (if unknowingly). Undergrad is often thought of as one of the best times in peoples lives, but the same seems to be said of grad school vary rarely. While this is certainly related to workload and other factors, I think a huge problem is that grad students socially cripple themselves without realising due to their choice of accommodation. When I went to my PhD acceptance visitation weekends at a number of universities and discussed with students their housing options and how they found grad school socially, a clear pattern emerged that those who lived in standard graduate housing hardly knew the people in their buildings, and a majority of their friends came from within their departments. Those who lived in residential colleges on the other hand seemed to know their neighbours and a much greater range of people.

 

If my posts make a few people think about what they want socially from graduate school, and consider how their housing choices affect those wants (because I really do think it's a decision made by most without careful consideration), I'm not particularly bothered by being called negative or judgmental on the internet.

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I do appreciate the suggestion of stepping out of my comfort zone and living in a residential school, and (if not for the cat issue) would agree that maybe I shouldn't immediately write off that option. However, I know that for me, and people like me, it would not be the most fitting option and it doesn't just have to do with a comfort zone. Being introverted means you generally lose energy from being around groups of people and feel more energized when you are able to spend time alone. This doesn't mean you don't need human contact, but it does mean that you need space and alone time to thrive. For me, the kind of pushing myself out of my comfort zone I need to do is more like making the effort to get to know students in my classes, or someone I run into in the library, or someone at a concert, etc.

There's nothing wrong with being introverted, and there's nothing better about being extroverted. They're just two different ways of being, and I think you're confusing trying to force oneself into extroversion for "going out of your comfort zone."

I do get that for someone who isn't significantly introverted, it's hard to understand that it's not something you can or should change about yourself. But, the kind of advice I'm looking for is more about how to push myself to actually talk to and get to know the people I'm around in school or other activities I'm involved in. You mention that those in residential communities tend to know and be friends with a much greater range of people, but that's not what I want or need. I thrive off of having a smaller circle of people that I know and trust and that's all I'm looking for.

Either way, I do appreciate everyone's input and the fact that people have taken the time to give their two cents to try and help others out!

Edited by cylon.descendant
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The older students made it simple for us incoming ones: "Spend the 1st year at the (dorm-like) graduate housing. Then live in an apartment the next 4-5 years"

 

Socially, it just makes more sense and really fosters interdisciplinary social mixing.

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There's nothing wrong with being introverted, and there's nothing better about being extroverted. They're just two different ways of being, and I think you're confusing trying to force oneself into extroversion for "going out of your comfort zone." 

 

The reason I'm so adamant about this is precisely because I myself am introverted. Your assumption that it's impossible to have time alone or recharge just isn't true; you still have your own room. Thriving as an introvert in a residential college is very much possible.

 

It is about comfort zone,

 

But, the kind of advice I'm looking for is more about how to push myself to actually talk to and get to know the people I'm around in school or other activities I'm involved in.

 

because while being introverted is totally fine, introverted people too often use it as an excuse to avoid things (that are much more to do with their own comfort zones than any unchangeable introversion nature) that scare them. You want to know how to push yourself and be more socially active? Don't lie to yourself about why some things make you uncomfortable. Doing so means you end up throwing many achievable things into the "too hard basket".Telling yourself it's because you're an introvert is the easy way out and removes personal responsibility. These lies are particularly easy to tell yourself when you have cursory knowledge of something and aren't yet able to recognise that introversion won't be an issue.

 

You mention being shy in your first post, but being shy is not the same as being introverted. Shyness IS a comfort zone issue, and the issues you talk about with interacting with new people are solved by putting yourself in a situation where meeting new people becomes a normal thing (e.g. living in a residential community).

 

You mention that those in residential communities tend to know and be friends with a much greater range of people, but that's not what I want or need. I thrive off of having a smaller circle of people that I know and trust and that's all I'm looking for.

 

I think most people are the same, even at residential colleges. Being friends with a wider range of people doesn't mean you can't have a smaller circle of people who you trust and know really well. This too is easier to achieve when living in a community, because you need to get to know people who will eventually become such to begin with. The word "circle" too (implying that your friends are friends with one another), is easier to achieve.

 

You created a topic to ask how to deal with your shyness and how to fit in a new city and school. Unfortunately, you have other circumstances (i.e. your cat) that make living in a residential community, the ideal solution to your issue, not possible. I fully recognise that since this is the case, you (and others who have made similar arrangements) don't want to be acknowledging that your social situation will be difficult and more limited than it would otherwise be, such is human nature. This doesn't change how things are.

 

As ak48 mentioned was encouraged of him, I'm certainly not saying that everyone should live in a residential community their entire graduate school lives. But at least for the first year, when you're trying to meet new people, settle into a new area, discover new things etc... it "just makes more sense".

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I wasn't saying I didn't see your point at all Arcanen, but you don't seem to want to acknowledge that it isn't the only way of looking at the issue. I was trying to be honest and diplomatic, but I feel like you're judging and scolding me for explaining my situation and perspective. I'm not hiding behind the fact that I'm an introvert; I'm aware of that fact and trying to take steps to make sure it doesn't stop me from having a great experience in grad school. I have lived in my own apartment for four years and I really love it and know it works for me, so I'm planning to continue with that type of arrangement. I'm sure there would be some great things about university residence, even for me, but I know it isn't the best choice I could make either. 

 

You created a topic to ask how to deal with your shyness and how to fit in a new city and school. Unfortunately, you have other circumstances (i.e. your cat) that make living in a residential community, the ideal solution to your issue, not possible. I fully recognise that since this is the case, you (and others who have made similar arrangements) don't want to be acknowledging that your social situation will be difficult and more limited than it would otherwise be, such is human nature. This doesn't change how things are.

 

I'm not trying to lie to myself about this. I get that it might be easier to meet many people in residence. I just don't really find that to be a major selling point. Honestly, I'm not worried about creating a big safety net of friends (because I have always thrived by having a few people I'm close to rather than many that I'm friendly with but distanced from). I care about being able to have a conversation with the people in my classes, being able to talk to my professors outside of class without having a heart attack, and in doing these things, hopefully being able to connect with a couple people that I can become closer with. Honestly, if my cat were the only thing that made residence not an option for me, I wouldn't keep refuting your posts (and your assumptions about me). 

It's great that you want to take the time to open some minds to university residence because, you're right, it's something people should consider instead of just writing off. That still doesn't mean it works for EVERYONE, though, and it certainly doesn't mean that those of us it doesn't work for are "lying to ourselves about why something makes us uncomfortable." For me, my apartment is a haven away from my social life, somewhere I can go to relax and cuddle with my cat when I know that reading a book will make me feel more connected to the world than hanging out with friends would. I've known a lot of people who've lived in residence (albeit mostly undergrads), and I know that even if you have your own suite there, it will always be in the middle of that social community. I don't want that and it's not because I'm afraid to go out of my comfort zone. Let's just leave it at that, okay??

If anyone is interested in diversifying this conversation, I would love to hear some more opinions! I know there is a lot more to the issue of meeting people than just living arrangements. Any current grad students have experiences to share, good or bad? Anyone else with the same kinds of worries?

Edited by cylon.descendant
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I know where you are coming from. I'm an introverted person and really like living on my own, however, I'm sacrificing that at the very least for the first year, and staying in graduate housing to push myself out there, but I don't think that this is the end all of meeting people at all. You can be just as isolated in a group of people as you are by yourself.

 

I'm making it a personal challenge to get to know somebody new every week I'm there until I make enough new friends. Don't turn down people or outings. If someone strikes up a conversation, don't shut down and don't worry about what you sound like, which is what I used to do. Instead of focusing on yourself, just ignore that inner dialogue and focus on the actual conversation. Just listen, ask questions about them and their life, and offer up some conversation about yourself. If you get a good vibe, just let them know you'd like to stay in touch and exchange contact info and let them know you'd like to get together. And then the most crucial part: follow up on that! Call, facebook or text them (whichever makes you feel most comfortable) within a few days and suggest dinner or coffee with some of the people you've met (and anyone they'd like to invite).

 

I also second meetup.com which can be a great way to meet new people. Just join something that sounds interesting and go.

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It's great that you want to take the time to open some minds to university residence because, you're right, it's something people should consider instead of just writing off. That still doesn't mean it works for EVERYONE, though, and it certainly doesn't mean that those of us it doesn't work for are "lying to ourselves about why something makes us uncomfortable." For me, my apartment is a haven away from my social life, somewhere I can go to relax and cuddle with my cat when I know that reading a book will make me feel more connected to the world than hanging out with friends would. I've known a lot of people who've lived in residence (albeit mostly undergrads), and I know that even if you have your own suite there, it will always be in the middle of that social community. I don't want that and it's not because I'm afraid to go out of my comfort zone. Let's just leave it at that, okay??

Thank you! I've been meaning to come and write something along these in response to Arcanen but haven't had the time. Plus, I think you articulated my main points more clearly than I would have! But yea, this is what I was trying to say in my earlier post, though I clearly didn't get there with my explanation.

 

I'm making it a personal challenge to get to know somebody new every week I'm there until I make enough new friends. Don't turn down people or outings. If someone strikes up a conversation, don't shut down and don't worry about what you sound like, which is what I used to do.

I think this is a really good idea. I don't drink coffee but I went out for coffee a lot when I started my PhD, just because that's what other people were doing and what I was invited to do. I drank tea or italian soda or whatever, but went just because that was the way to be social.

 

My other suggestions are to find activities or hobbies you like and pursue them. I've made some great friends through my hobbies and they're people that will be lifelong friends. And, they're great to be around because they aren't in grad school so they aren't caught up in the trap of feeling like they have to work 24/7 and that kind of thing. I seriously recommend that everyone try to get and maintain at least a few friendships with people outside of grad school and academia.

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If someone is an introvert, just putting them in grad housing (with a random room mate possibly) isn't going to magically make them an extrovert.  That's not how that works.  It's like just because you go to a bar doesn't mean you're going to pick up a chick or a duder.  You still need the compulsion and incentive to initiate the next step.  Realistically just having an outgoing room mate, that you get a long with, is the better path to social success, and that can happen anywhere (and cheaper than grad housing).  

 

Also, simply by virtue of graduate programs being destinations for non natives, you will make friends with fellow Sheamus's who will more than likely ask "Hey, are you up for exploring this fine new city."  

 

Also I second apartment/house renting because of the "Me-time. . ." factor.  I live alone in a house far from most everyone else in my program (relatively speaking); there was no way in hell I was going to do apartment living - especially if I could afford not to.  While the folks in my program are just darling, I need a spot that isn't bumping music 25/8 or heavily foot trafficked. . .which is not a requirement met by certain places popular with graduate students.

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Thanks for the advice everyone. I also think Teagirl's suggestion of having a kind of personal goal/challenge to meet new people is a good idea. I think if I make that commitment to myself I will be more likely to do things that might be slightly stretching my comfort zone in order to meet new people. I really think the first few weeks will make or break me (because if I start off totally in my shell it will be that much harder to break it down the road), so I guess I'll just have to make myself get to know some people right off the bat.

And thanks for the meetup.com suggestion. I hadn't thought of something like that, but it could really help me, especially if I am having a hard time getting to know people in person.

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The best thing about meetup.com is that you know you're meeting people with whom you share a common interest or activity. So if you want to find other people to go biking, practice another language, play Magic: The Gathering, etc. it's all there. :) Having something in common with a group of people makes it a lot easy to strike up conversations and what not.

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