The shy student: How to engage in your classes even when you don't want to

Many students are nervous about making good impressions. File Geoff Lister

University is a time of new experiences and new people, and the latter can be a challenge if you’re shy. So if you’ve ever spent 10 minutes psyching yourself up to raise your hand in class only for the topic to change, then these tips and tricks are for you!

Relax

Literally: let your shoulders drop, unclench your teeth, take a deep breath and uncross your arms. If a picture says a thousand words then your body language says a million, and doing all these things will make you feel and appear more open and approachable – that way you don’t have to do the approaching, because that’s, well, kinda difficult.

Practice a little

Everyone says you should attend office hours to establish professional academic relationships. This is solid advice, but it only works up until the door – what if awkwardness ensues once you’re inside?

Beforehand, try verbally going through a checklist of things to address. Name, course, year and major will get you rolling. Asking a question about something that came up in class, or about a portion of the syllabus, is evergreen. And if a course text catches your eye, say so!

Don’t over-rehearse, though — you don’t want to lock yourself into a script.

Baby steps

Set small goals — try raising your hand once in each class for a week, to answer opinion or overview questions where you don’t have to worry much about the answer. Or, if going to official office hours is difficult, catch your professor after class and walk-and-talk to build rapport in a more relaxed context.

Socializing’s hard, and many students are nervous about making good impressions. That’s part of being a human person in the world. So if it’s a little harder for you, remember that you’re not in this boat alone, and even if you fall out, it’s not sink-or-swim!