It is not hard for me to remember when I was in college. I loved many things about college life: I loved learning. I loved the camaraderie. And I loved football. —Joseph B. Wirthlin, businessman and religious leader
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
Describe benefits of social interaction in college
Identify communication strategies for effective communication
Identify social conflicts and resolution strategies
When we explore relationships between people and groups of people, interdependence may well be one of the most meaningful words in the English language. It's meaningful because it speaks to the importance of connecting with others and maintaining viable relationships.
Interdependence is defined as the mutual reliance, or mutual dependence, between two or more people or groups. “In an interdependent relationship, participants may be emotionally, economically, ecologically, and/or morally reliant on and responsible to each other.”
An interdependent relationship is different from dependent and codependent relationships, though. In dependent relationships, some members are dependent while some are not (dependent people believe that they may not be able to achieve goals on their own). In codependent relationships, there is a sense that one must help others achieve their goals before pursuing one’s own. Contrast these relationships with interdependent relationships, in which the dependency, support, and gain is shared for the enrichment of all.
Interdependence in College
Interdependence is valuable in college because it contributes to your success as a student. When you feel comfortable with interdependence, for example, you may be more likely to ask a friend to help you with a class project. You may also be more likely to offer that same help to someone else. You may be more inclined to visit a faculty member during office hours. You may be more likely to attend the tutoring center for help with a difficult subject. Perhaps you would visit the career counseling center.
Overall, when you have a sense of interdependence, you cultivate support networks for yourself, and you help others, too. Interdependence is a win-win relationship.
The following table illustrates how interdependence can play a role in college life.
Interdependence Struggle Mode
Interdependence Success Mode
Students in struggle mode maintain a stance of dependence, co-dependence, or perhaps dogged independence, but not interdependence
Students in success mode develop relationships that support themselves and support other people, too
Students in struggle mode may avoid cooperating with others in situations where the common good could be achieved
Students in success mode develop networks of friends, family members, professionals, and others as a support team
Students in struggle mode may be reluctant to listen compassionately and attempt to understand the perspective of another person
Students in success mode actively and compassionately listen to others as an action of support; they demonstrate care and concern
Benefits of Social Interaction in College
If you were to ask fellow students what they think are the greatest benefits of social interaction in college, you would probably get a wide and colorful range of responses. How would you answer? Gaining good friends to “talk shop” with? Easing loneliness during difficult times? Having a group to join for Friday night fun? Indeed there are many, many benefits personal to each of us. But you may find, too, that there are certain benefits that are recognizable to all. These are highlighted below.
Form Deep and Lasting Relationships
When you socialize regularly in college, you tend to develop deep and lasting relationships. Even if some of the connections are shorter term, they can support you in different ways. For example, maybe a college friend in your same major is interested in starting a business with you. Or maybe a roommate helps you find a job. With a foundation of caring and concern, you are bound to find that your interdependent relationships fulfill you and others. It's unlikely that students without interdependent relationships will experience these kinds of benefits.
Develop Good Study Habits
Study habits vary from student to student, but you can usually tell when studying and social life are at odds. Creative, organized students can combine studying and socializing for maximum advantage. For example, you might join a peer study group for a subject that you find difficult or even for a subject that you excel in. Either way, you and others gain from this relationship. There is mutual support not only for studying but for building social connections.
When you feel stressed, what are your “go-to” behaviors? It can be hard to reach out to others during times of stress, but socializing can be a great stress reliever. When you connect with others, you may find that life is a little easier and burdens can be shared and lightened. Helping is mutual. The key is to balance social activities with responsibilities.
In college, there are opportunities not only to explore a wide spectrum of interests but also to share them. In the process of exploring and developing your personal interests, you may join a club or perhaps work in a campus location that fits your interests. By connecting with others in a context of shared interests, everyone stands to gain because you expand knowledge and experience through social interaction.
Develop Social Skills
As you engage in social activities in college, you have the opportunity to observe how other people act in these situations. You may see behaviors you want to emulate or behaviors you wish to avoid. Throughout these observations and experiences, you can learn new ways to handle yourself in social situations. These skills will benefit you as you pursue a career and engage with people who interest and inspire you.
Communication Strategies for Effective Interactions
Socializing is generally considered a leisurely, enjoyable activity. But depending on your personality and attitude, it can also feel like work or provoke anxiety.
Whatever your natural inclinations are, you can learn how to communicate more effectively with others and foster supportive interactions. The “doors” of change to more effective interactions are threefold:
Examine your reservations
Engage with others
Expand your social circle
Examine Your Reservations
Everybody feels shy or insecure from time to time, but if you feel inhibited by your shyness, it may be because you've developed certain habits of thought that don’t serve your best interests anymore. Below are some strategies to help you examine reservations you may have about engaging in social activities.
Change ideas and thoughts: In our busy, high-octane lives, it's not always easy to be aware of our thoughts, especially habitual thoughts that sometimes lurk behind the others. But if we make a point to listen to our thoughts, we may discover some that we’d like to change. Once you begin to recognize thoughts you’d like to change, you can train yourself in new directions. For example, you can start by closing your eyes and visualizing the negative thought. Let it slowly dissolve until it disappears completely.
Turn a negative thought into a constructive thought: If you find yourself thinking that you're not suited to joining a group that interests you, turn this thought into a positive one by saying, “I am an interesting person and I have a lot to offer and share.” This affirmation is true! You might want to come up with three or more replacement thoughts.
Acknowledge that everyone is unique: Everybody experiences high and low points in life. But even if we cannot change external circumstances, we can change our perceptions and attitudes. A happy attitude will always serve you well. “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” —Abraham Lincoln
Engage with Others
Smile: One of the easiest ways to compel yourself into socializing is to smile. Smiling can instantly make you feel more positive. It also draws other people to you.
Use welcoming body language: If you are at a social gathering, be aware of your body language. Does it signal that you are approachable? Make eye contact with people, give them a small wave or a nod, and look in front of you instead of at your feet or at the floor. When you look happy and ready to talk, people are more likely to come up to you.
Put your phone away: If you look busy, people won't want to interrupt you. Your body language should say that you are ready to interact.
Be genuine: Whether you are talking to an old friend or somebody you have just met, show genuine interest in the conversation. Being fully engaged shows that you are compassionate and makes for more stimulating and fulfilling interactions with others.
Keep conversations balanced: Ask people questions about themselves. Show that you care by asking others to share.
Be open-minded: The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is relevant here. Someone you're ambivalent about could end up being your best friend. Give yourself a chance to get to know others. What interests might you share?
Expand Your Social Circle
Offer invitations: As you reach out to others, others will be more likely to reciprocate and reach out to you. Call old friends that you haven't seen in a while and set up a time to get together. Invite a friend to the movies, a baseball game, a concert, or other activity. Consider having a party and telling your friends to bring guests.
Accept more invitations: Granted, there are only so many hours in the day for socializing. But if you're in the habit of turning down invitations, try to make a point to accept some—even if the invitation is to attend something out of your comfort zone. You might even want to make a habit of arbitrarily saying yes three times for every one time you say no.
Join a club or group with like-minded people: Making new friends and expanding one’s social network can be accomplished by joining a club or group. You may even want to consider joining a group focused on something different from what you’re used to.
Meet mutual friends: Meeting friends of friends is one of the easiest ways to meet new people. Try to view every person you meet in your life as a doorway into a new social circle.
Look for unique opportunities to be social: This can be as simple as starting a conversation with a checkout clerk—"Hey, how's your day going?"—instead of remaining quiet.
All in all, make your social life one of your top priorities. Everyone needs some alone time, too, but it's important to stay connected. Keeping those connections alive contributes to healthy interdependence and personal success.
Activity: Reflections on Self-Confidence
Identify personal traits that give you self-confidence and use them as a springboard to social interaction
Make a list of your positive qualities. Acknowledge your accomplishments, talents, and good nature. Ask yourself the following questions to get you started:
What have I done in the past year that I am proud of?
What is my proudest accomplishment of all time?
What unique talents do I have?
What do people tend to compliment me for?
What positive impact have I had on other people’s lives?
Draft your responses as a journal entry, or a diary entry, or even a poem or a brief essay.
Submit your writing to a friend, a family member, or a social network. Reach out. Be social.
Social Conflict Situations and Resolution Strategies
Now that you know more about communication strategies for interacting in college, you may find it helpful to identify common situations that can evoke anxiety or social problems and conflict.
Campus Parties and Hookups
Many college students report that they have social limits not shared by their some of their friends. For example, you may join a group of friends to attend a party off-campus where a lot of drinking is taking place, along with other activities you are not comfortable with. If this kind of situation clashes with your personal, cultural, or religious values, you may feel best leaving the event and seeking out other social settings in the future. Angle your social interests toward people and situations that are compatible with your values and preferences.
When you're in college, it's not unusual hit a rough patch and find yourself struggling academically, and such challenges can have an impact on your social life. If you may find yourself in this situation—and especially if it includes other stressors, such as employment difficulties, responsibilities for family member, of financial problems—you may benefit from slowing down and getting help. Your college or university has support systems in place to help you. Take advantage of resources such as the tutoring center, counseling center, and academic advisers to help you restore your social life to a balanced state.
Homesickness is a common among college freshman, but it can persist in later college years, too. During this time, one may not feel up to being fully sociable or outgoing, especially if depression is involved. In fact, depression and social isolation tend to go together. As unappealing as it may feel, one of the best antidotes to homesickness (and depression, too,) is try to make new social connections. Try to appreciate your new environment and know that you are not alone in feeling a bit out of place and alone. Many potential new friends may be sharing the same feeling and hoping to connect with someone just like you. Give yourself time to acclimate, but reach out as soon as possible and take an active role in building your new college life.
Too Much Social Networking
It's pretty obvious that social media is an integral part of the social landscape in college. From tweeting about a football game, to posting an album on Facebook about your spring break, to beefing up your LinkedIn profile before a job hunt, to Instagramming picture of party hijinks, social networking is everywhere in college, and it's likely to say. The following video gives an insider look at why college students use social media.
Despite the many benefits, as you know, social networking can be a major distraction. If social networking is getting in the way of any part of your college success—whether its social or academic success—take a break and disconnect for a while.
In a 2014 research study by the University of California-Los Angeles (the American Freshman Survey), 153,000 full-time, first-year students at more than 200 four-year public and private institutions were surveyed. Only 18 percent of those surveyed said they spend more than 16 hours weekly with friends. Compare this data point with a similar survey conducted in 1987: in that year, two-thirds of surveyed students said they spent more than 16 hours each week socializing.
What accounts for this change? Are academic pursuits now taking a larger percentage of students’ time? Is socializing being replaced by part-time jobs? And what is the impact of less socializing? You can read about the survey results to find out more: College Freshmen Socialize Less, Feel Depressed More.
For now, keep in mind the many benefits of socializing in college. It's possible to have a healthy social life that's balanced with other responsibilities.
The following essay, "With a Little Help from My Friends," is an essay about the importance of friends and friendships in college.
With a Little Help from My Friends
We often hear about the importance of relationships: a necessary aspect of integration in society. Unfortunately, we rarely follow that advice. Perhaps we live an excessively busy life or we already have a close group of friends and do not feel compelled to meet new people. I have come to learn through my time in college that neglecting to cultivate new relationships is detrimental to living a happy and successful life. I would like to offer this piece of advice: no matter how difficult it seems at first, always try to make new friends. College is not always easy. However, having friends makes it much easier. Friends are a vital part of your life that can expose you to new subjects, cultures, and experiences while giving you the opportunity to do the same for them.
At my college, there was a small space that the students called “the bat cave.” It was by no means a first-class lounge, but it was a place where friends could help others better understand their course material. We gave it this peculiar nickname because it was our place to get together and conquer villains one after another. These were not your everyday super villains, however. Sometimes they were complicated homework assignments and other times they were difficult exams. No matter the challenge, someone was always willing to help. I went to the bat cave several times and every visit I learned something new. Professors and teaching assistants could not relate to us like our friends could. That made a difference, because nothing was better than being taught by a friend.
Friends are not only an essential support for your time in school, but also can be integral in helping realize post-college aspirations. During a visit to New York City, I visited the offices of the company Spotify. After touring their facilities I had the opportunity to talk to some of the employees. One man I talked with was a senior employee who worked at Microsoft prior to joining Spotify’s team. Our conversation stuck in my head because he gave a very striking piece of advice: make friends. It never truly occurred to me that the friends you make in college could impact your future in the workforce. They could be partners in potential business ventures or help you land your dream job. In any case, having strong connections with friends can undoubtedly make a major difference in your career.
The best part of making new friends, however, is trading life experiences, skills, and interests with them. For a year and a half before my final semester of college, I studied abroad in the United States. My family was concerned because typically, students search for first jobs prior to graduation. I, on the other hand, had no trepidations about going because I knew that I would have countless, exciting learning experiences. I can say today, without a doubt, that my trip was a great decision. I met incredible people, and through knowing them, I grew and changed. I also know that I was a positive feature in the lives of my new friends. The greatest thing that I learned was that meeting different people with different backgrounds, histories, perspectives, or even different musical tastes, inevitably changes you and lets you see the world in an entirely different way. You no longer see the world as simply a big, blue sphere with freezing winters or sizzling summers (although that certainly seems to be the case up North!), but as a place in which people like you live, learn, and love.
Going to college may seem hard, but it does not need to be. I have learned that the way I perceive my life as a student completely relies upon my relationships with my friends. They are not only the people that I like to spend time with, but also are essential in my growth and development as a human being. The pages in this book include insights from others just like you and me. They want to help you get through the common struggles of college with confidence and perseverance. Consider them your most most recent new friends. I truly hope that this inspires you in your quest for a great future.
—Paulo Fernandes (State University of New York), Foundations of Academic Success: Words of Wisdom