Small fish, big pond: building community at UCLA

by Annika Gangopadhyay

It’s no secret that UCLA is one of the largest universities in the country. With tremendous class sizes and myriad activities, people inevitably bump into other people. But running into a familiar face in a lecture hall doesn’t always guarantee a friendship. It can be challenging to feel “at home” in such a large place, and even more difficult to form meaningful connections with other people. Regardless, finding your community isn’t impossible, even if it does take a bit of perseverance.

Many students who identify as introverts appreciate forming a small circle of close friends. As such, they often find that their most meaningful friendships come from casual conversation and repeated exposure.

Lily Jiang, a first-year student studying neuroscience, said she found her closest friends by hanging out with her roommates and fellow club members. Jiang pointed out that there are a lot of things to do outside of academics that make the initial awkwardness of meeting new people a little easier to overcome, such as watching movies in Westwood. As you make your foray into building connections in college, it also helps to have support. Jiang also said that support can be as simple as chatting with her high school friends on Discord. Even as an introvert, initiating casual conversation is key. “Don’t be intimidated [to talk to] randos,” Jiang said. “I met my best friend eating breakfast at the Study.”

Emma Shore, a first-year law student, also pointed out that following one’s interests inevitably helps the community-building process fall into place. When she’s not working on homework, Shore participates in recreational gymnastics. “College can often feel isolating without building a consistent routine,” Shore said. In that vein, Shore recommends joining groups that meet multiple times a week. You’re more likely to meet familiar faces, and others are more likely to remember you.

For those who lean towards extroverted, it’s easiest to meet large groups of people and immerse yourself in their energy.

Jessica Guan, a first-year student studying biochemistry, said that meeting new people was relatively easy—joining the club sport Dragon Boat immediately helped her connect with 50 people. Her biggest piece of advice is to just “put yourself out there.” Her approach to building community was to join as many clubs as possible at the beginning of the school year and sort her priorities out later on. “It’s better to meet as many people as possible than regret not showing up,” Guan said. For many students like Guan, the excitement of college comes with seizing opportunities as they come rather than being reluctant to act.

Similarly, Katrina Yang, a first-year student studying business economics, also found that being open to new experiences aided her tremendously. Similar to Shore, she believes that the process of building community occurs much faster when students surround themselves with those sharing similar academic journeys and interests. Yang also pointed out that keeping in touch with peers from her freshman orientation group, as well as remaining active in the Koreos dance team, solidified her community over the past year.

Navigating the social scene in college can be intimidating, but it can also be the source of some of your exciting memories on campus. It all starts with taking initiative. As Yang emphasizes, “If you always stay in your comfort zone, you’ll never get to [realize] all the amazing opportunities out there. So take a chance.”

Featured Image Photographed by Emily Chandler/BruinLife

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