OAKVILLE, Ontario, Canada — Until two years ago, I was surrounded by the same kids I’d known since elementary school. Then life took a turn and I had to learn how to adapt to new surroundings and a new school, fast.
I had been with the same group of 60 people since my little first grade days through my eighth grade graduation at my middle school in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. Although these kids weren’t my best friends, I liked the structure of the same faces year after year. I always knew who was going to be in that depressed and dusty classroom come the first day of school. It gave me stability and allowed me to branch out from this group in my successful search for some new friends — with a backbone in place.
Until the spring of eighth grade, I assumed I was going to my hometown high school in Oakville with this same group.
Then discussions began amongst my teachers and parents about a tech program with smaller classes, better suited to my needs. It was a “satellite class” at a school way off in an unfamiliar neighborhood, with new students and strange surroundings.
I knew in my heart the satellite class was exactly what I needed, with much more attention for special needs in school settings, like an aide to help with writing long notes to extra time for writing tests.
Best of all, the tech program included courses cooking and baking, two of my passions.
I was freaking out though, couldn’t believe I was going to a whole new place, leaving my circle of school friends behind. I was paranoid about who I would sit with at lunch and who I would talk to in class. I was happy to go and excited about the program, but scared, too.
Shy to socializing
I sat in my first class listening to the teacher drone away about all her expectations and thought, who in this dark and dingy beast of a school would I be able to talk to and who would help me along?
After getting into an interesting conversation with one of my new classmates, I asked him if I could hang out with him at lunch. I ended up meeting him at my locker after we put our books away and followed him into the cafeteria.
For the next few months, I met and got to know a great group of teens. They were interested in what I was doing, and realized I was new but took it in a positive way.
They introduced me to all their friends, and took me on trips to the convenience store behind the school where they went for soft drink and candy. They genuinely wanted to get to know me and have a fun time with the new member of their club.
I just went with the flow, and although I felt shy, I joined in most of their activities. Instead of burying my head in my books in class, I would turn to the person beside me and strike up conversation. Those friendships carried over into the cafeteria, where I sat with lots of different people. Now I know dozens of people and sometimes can’t choose who to sit with.
At least some of your new high school teachers will tell you over and over to get involved. It may seem like repetitive advice, but let me assure you, those words are golden. Getting involved will help you meet many more people than the classroom and cafeteria will ever offer you, combined.
Go ahead and scan those announcements the secretary posts about the dozens of activities that start up in the fall. You will have an incredible time and get to do things you’ve never done before. I started writing for a school newspaper, took part in a medieval play and learned new drama skills and exposed me to the hardcore yet incredible world of dramatic arts.
You’ll see that your friends start to overlap with your extra curricular activities, in class and in the caf. Choose whichever activity you like, but get involved! You’ll build a foundation of good friends, brick by brick over time.
Best of all, you’ll get to know some wonderful people who share your interests.
Make it work
If you find yourself at a new school for any reason, don’t bite your nails off with fear.
It’s natural to be very anxious about a new setting, meeting new people and starting afresh. You can ease the pain of this seemingly impossible process by initiating a few friendly conversations, planting yourself at a table in the cafeteria and carrying a good, old-fashioned smile as you begin to take steps to build your new school life.
Teague Neal is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.