Is Your Hoo Lonely? This Third-Year Student Understands. Here Are His Tips

September 5, 2023
Justin Vinh sitting in the hatchback of a car with his parents and sister

Justin Vinh, third from left, poses for a farewell picture with father Paul, sister Melissa and mother Trang Doan in 2021 before leaving for his first year at UVA. His sister is now a first-year student at the University. (Contributed photo)

When you’re the new kid in town, it’s normal to feel lonely and alone, something University of Virginia student Justin Vinh understands very well.

He’s also found a cure that worked for him, and he recently shared it for others on Reddit.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of posts about being lonely these first few weeks on Grounds, especially from our new first-years, so I thought I’d give my two cents,” the third-year student wrote.

“Two years ago, I came to Grounds as a socially awkward first-year with next to no friends. It didn’t help that I barely knew anyone else coming into UVA, didn’t have a roommate, and was an engineering student (joking! maybe). It was a long journey to learn not just how to find friends, but also how to keep them,” he wrote. “I’ve been in your shoes as a first-year, and I’ve also since seen it from the other side as an RA.”

Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More
Great Minds Put to Good Use, Learn More

Vinh is not the only one who noticed some students struggling to make new friends. Guardians have also been peppering independent UVA parent Facebook groups with concerns about their children.

So, UVA Today reached out to Vinh to ask if we could share his tips. His answer was a resounding “yes!”

Here is his Reddit post.

Fighting the First-Year Loneliness: A Guide

First, you have to put yourself out there. As someone who once had extreme social anxiety and over-thought how to find the “perfect” moment to enter a conversation or walk up to someone to say “Hi,” this was the hardest part. It’s scary as an introvert and takes courage ... but courage only means something in the face of fear. Personally, I made a resolution my first week on Grounds that anyone I found interesting – whether that’d be the person standing in the dining hall line, sitting next to me in class, or just waiting by the bus stop – I would walk up to, say hi, and simply extend my hand for a handshake. I pushed all other thoughts to the background. Introduce yourself and ask about their day, their classes, where they’re from, and what they like to do for fun. Just don’t talk about the weather – that’s boring. No, they’re not judging you. Yes, they want to meet new people as much as you do. No, you’re not going to die of embarrassment if they’re not in a talking mood. Nine out of 10 people would love to talk. When I came to college, I had 100 people total in my phone’s contact book. When I finished first year, I had more than triple that. This is how.

Justin Vinh standing with friends outside at Carter Mountain Orchard
Vinh and his friends Yaritza Rodriguez, Leah Cocker and Olivia Chiappetta went to a concert at Carter Mountain Orchard last fall. (Contributed photo)

Second, as many others have mentioned, join clubs. You have unique interests. Well, you have “unique” interests. Yeah, believe it or not, there are at least a dozen other people here who like what you like and formed a club for it. Find it. Or find something way, way outside of your comfort zone. Maybe that’s a capella or debate or building a solar car. It helps if you master that first skill of approaching people and saying “Hi,” especially after you join a club.

Third, now that you have met people, hang out. It may seem like everyone here already has made friends, but let me break this to you: nobody here has friends, yet. Acquaintances, perhaps. But not actual, true friends. We don’t find friends. We make friends. Do you remember that guy you struck up a conversation with at the dining hall and learned that he likes to climb? Yeah, him. Text him and invite him to climb tomorrow at Slaughter Gym. Or ask him to lunch. You get the idea. You make friends by sharing experiences and talking. That last part is important. Sometimes other people are just waiting for someone to take the initiative. That’s how my friend group grew close our first year. We would get together and try out something new every week or two; most were activities that I took the lead on.

Justin Vinh playing cards with friends
Vinh, far left, started hosting game nights with his friends this summer in his room in Bond House, where he is a resident adviser. (Contributed photo)

Finally, if you still can’t find the courage to do the above or haven’t much luck, don’t despair. Talk to your RA. We’re not here just to enforce some arbitrary rules and keep you safe – we’re here to help you find your place at UVA. It’s your new home away from home, and we want to be one of your first friends. Ask about what clubs we’re in or what our interests are. Many of my residents did just that, and I helped all of them find clubs and meet new people.

So, first-year, the ball’s in your court now. Loneliness is hard. Welcome to college. First year is a rollercoaster, and this is just one of the stomach-drops you’re going to get along the way. College is about trying new things and stepping outside your comfort zone, and that’s hard ... like very hard. But we have to do it if we are to grow and become the awesome people we are meant to be.

OK, I'll stop talking now. I hope I was able to help. Good luck. We are all rooting for you.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications