Camp, Brigham Young University and the process of making friends

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My high school friend Dan didn’t make friends during his first year of college. In all fairness, he was a socially liberal human attending Brigham Young University. He did not stand a fighting chance.

I, on the other hand, made some friends during my first year of college. At first glance, one would assume I did the better thing.

“Wow, Karim,” they would say. “You’re so cool that you made some friends.”

Well, I am definitely pretty cool, but that isn’t why I have friends.

In general, the first friends incoming students make in college are their roommates. If not, roommates become your first mortal enemies. The next friends people make are their floormates. I did that as well. I befriended my roommates, then expanded to my floormates.

Roommates and floormates were my first friends because they were near me. In this way, college is a lot like church camp but with exponentially less Jesus. I suppose that means it is just like a regular summer camp.

One of the main purposes of camp is to make friends and have fun. Therefore, when I arrived at summer camp every year, I donned my best face and worked hard to keep the generous, excited and funny version of me on the surface. I am not usually generous, excited and funny. When people ask me how I would describe myself, my first thought is usually “go away.” It takes a lot of energy to keep this generous, excited me on the surface of my life. But camp lasts for only two weeks. For two weeks, I can do it. Regardless, at camp, I did it without really thinking anyway. My brain went into make-friends mode, and I could hardly turn my bubbly self off.

When I arrived at Spens-Black in Unit Three on Aug. 23, 2014, I found myself entering that same excited, time-to-make-friends mentality. I donned my happy face and wore my positive attitude. They don’t fit well, but the people in my residence hall did not know that. And wouldn’t you believe it, it worked. The people at college liked me! Some of them even wanted to be my friend. It was so exciting. Not only had I made it into UC Berkeley, one of the best schools in the world, but I was also winning the approval of other people who had received that great honor.

By the end of the first few weeks, I had a core group of people from my floor and the floor above mine. We did everything together. This group lasted throughout the semester. Thank God that I was able to keep up my friendliness throughout that period!

When I returned home for winter break, I finally reunited with my friend Dan and my core group of friends from high school. Instead of missing my residence hall friends over break, I was rather relieved to be away from them. It was absolutely refreshing to be around my home friends, because I felt like I could actually be myself. This sense of relief made me realize that I hadn’t been completely myself around my new friends at UC Berkeley.

I came to Berkeley with a skewed perspective on making friends. I had a camp-like mindset and was very eager to find a Berkeley replacement for my home group of friends.

The camp-like approach to making friends is flawed. Camp is small. If I wanted to have friends at camp, I was forced to make them with whomever was close to me — namely the boys in my cabin and the girls in my sister cabin. UC Berkeley is not small. There are more than 8,000 incoming students and nearly three times that many already in attendance. Because of my camp mentality, however, I limited myself to the 35 people on my floor and the roughly 300 people in my building.

Furthermore, I was very eager to find a group of friends. A group means wide acceptance. It also comes with a social life usually including activities that distract me from the mundanity of first-year classes. I had forgotten, however, that my friend group in high school had taken four years to solidify and perfect. It was illogical to expect that not to be the case in college.

The desire for a group and the camp-like mentality resulted in my settling for friendship with the people around me. They are great people. I love everything about them. Many of them will probably attend my wedding, assuming anybody is foolish enough to marry me. That being said, they represent only a tiny portion of UC Berkeley’s undergraduate population.

In my excitement to have found a group and a place, I didn’t stop to think of whether it was the right group or place for me at UC Berkeley. When I came back and compared stories with Dan, I realized my mistake.

Dan had no friends at BYU. Dan is a nice, sociable guy. He could have made friends. He even tried! Unlike me, however, Dan knew exactly what he was looking for in a friend and was unwilling to compromise. He preferred no friends to friends he wasn’t sure he could grow to love.

There is nothing wrong with being exceptionally close to the people on your floor in the residence halls. In fact, it’s great to be able to come home to friendly faces who care about your day. But too often, I found that I had limited myself to that group of people and therefore did not find it necessary to go out into the rest of Berkeley and actively work toward making other friends.

The people in your residence halls or the first people you meet otherwise may end up being your special lifelong friends — even your best ever friends. Or they may not. As long as you’re open to both options, you will probably, hopefully, not end up friendless and alone. Good luck.

Contact Karim Doumar at [email protected].

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