Finding Your People

by Hannah Hye Min Chung | 5/21/15 8:19pm

There is a saying in Korea that one will make their life long friendships in high school or before — never in college.

Once you matriculate, the social dynamics of a college campus are drastically different from what many of us experienced before.

Building relationships here requires individuals to be more proactive — we are no longer provided with a group of homeroom classmates or little league teammates whom we are expected, and often required, to befriend.

There are, however, a series of unspoken rules about how we interact with one another on campus, and it begs the question as to exactly how students manage to forge friendships once they arrive.

Unfortunately, there is not a clear cut answer to the question of college socialization, and students’ experiences vary so greatly that it’s meaningless to say that a single method works for each and every one of us in meeting and befriending new people. There are, however, some governing threads.

For the majority of students who arrive in Hanover, the first social experiences include listening to a loud group of upperclassmen singing about Dartmouth before setting off to climb mountains or kayak with a group of fresh-faced first-years.

An intense wilderness experience can engender bonding, but whether or not that bond evolves into a lasting friendship differs from student to student. Adria Brown ’15 said that although DOC First-Year Trips helped ease her into networking with and meeting people at the College, her interactions did not develop into long-term friendships after returning to campus. Yoon Kim ’16 reiterated a similar sentiment, and she said that she did not build a lasting rapport with her tripees. This is not necessarily the case for everyone, though, as many students have been known to remain close with, sometimes even date, their trippees.

Kim noted that she knows several people who became best friends during Trips and have remained that way ever since.

Sociology professor Janice McCabe expanded on the two factors that attract people to each other: homophily — a word that indicates sharing similar values and norms — and propinquity, which refers to spending time together in the same space.

Though Trips, by their nature, force propinquity, this does not necessarily mean the resultant friendships are created simply by spending time together for a few short days.

For Marielle Brady ’17, those who do become close during Trips are generally attracted to each other more for shared values and common interests than their shared time on a wilderness excursion.

If the DOC trips are marked by an intense burst of bonding, the next few weeks of orientation and adjustment to campus are marked by myriad of shorter, often shallow encounters.

After all, students are essentially introducing themselves to a new group of people approximately every five seconds during the span of about one week.

Kim said that her orientation was an overwhelming experience, and though she did have a group of people with whom she talked throughout the entire week, she did not end up forging lasting relationships.

One of the first groups many students meet after returning from Trips are their floormates, and first-year housing can be a formative time for budding friendships.

Brady said that her friend group arose from her first-year residential hall. She noted, however, that her case might have been special — she lived in a substance-free building in the River Cluster, so her housing’s remote location might have worked to create stronger bonds between residents.

In fact, Kim noted that she felt people from particular first-year residential housing options such as sub-free dorms or the East Wheelock Cluster, tended to bond more quickly.

She said she personally did not enjoy a strong bonding experience with her freshman floormates, and she said that she envied those floors with strong bonding.

Of course, not all floors are a hub of community bonding and friendship. Some floors, for example, can find themselves divided between social circles.

Ben Nelson ’17 said that his freshman floor had two main friend groups who spent weekends together, but he did not necessarily find common interest with them.

Sophomore fall and winter introduces a new excitement and anxiety — many students, at some point or the other, consider the option of joining a Greek organization.

With parents who were both members of the Tabard coed fraternity during their time at the College, Nelson said that his familiarity with his house’s values and atmosphere helped him feel comfortable during his decision to join.

On the other hand, female students interviewed noted that rush process was a rather overwhelming and confusing experience for them.

After participating in the winter rush process, Kim became a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and Brady joined Kappa Delta sorority, and both women said that joining a house was an instrumental shift in their social dynamic as they were then introduced to a new social circle of students.

Brown said that she did not find a house that she truly connected to after the rush process and joined Alpha Pi Omega sorority during her junior year.

She said that the friend group she made within the Native American community are the people who are closest to her.

“We all come from different tribes and are very diverse, but there are some similar experiences and feelings that you have coming into Dartmouth that help you bond as a group,” she said.

To some extent, it is easy to understand why people sometimes create quicker and stronger connections with the people from the same ethnic or cultural group. Brown said she thinks that the people with the same background tend to share similar values that facilitates this connection.

Echoing this sentiment, Kim said that her best friend group comes from the overlap of the two spheres with which she identifies — the Korean student group and a Christian group. Initially, she said, she feared she was not branching out, but she soon realized that it is natural that she wants to spend time with those who share her values.

“If you know that you have your best friends, and you want to spend [all of your time] with them — do it. If you are happy with it, you should just stick with it,” she said. “But it’s also wonderful to step out of your comfort zone.”

It’s not only within explicitly cultural or ethnic organizations that people convene with those from similar backgrounds, Nelson said. In fact, the organizations created around a certain activity or cause also draw people from certain backgrounds as well.

Athletics, too, offer students opportunities to forge friendships with classmates.

Brady said that she saw intense bonding between female varsity teammates, and it is understandable considering how much time they spend with each other and away from those who are not in the same team.

Kim said that she noticed that the varsity athletes do tend to craft friend groups much faster.

McCabe said that varsity athletic teams have both homophily and propinquity — in that the teammates share the same interest of playing a certain sport and spend a great deal of amount of time together.

When asked what she thinks really shaped the way she interacts with others, Brown said that for her, it was important to first find out who she really is and what she wants.

“Everyone wants it to be clear-cut — this is how you make friends. But the reality is a lot more difficult than that,” she said.