When one first starts Unbound, its strengths are apparent. It offers faster learning than traditional college, the ability to study anywhere at your own pace, the freedom to travel, the opportunity to hold a real-life job and accumulate real-life experience because of its flexibility, and so much more. However, one of the many objections to Unbound is the apparent lack of socialization--at least compared to traditional colleges. There’s no campus to hang out in, no collective dormitories to sleep in, and no daily interaction with other students in classes. The lure of traditional college is the socialization. As Unbound students, our college experience is mostly online. That is our trade-off when choosing the Unbound experience. Our “real-life” friends may head off to their own traditional college far away from the city. Or maybe there were already just a few people our age around. Most of the time, we are forced to find friends in the online Unbound community. And yet, our community is arguably stronger than many live-in college dormitory communities. We don’t crowd over a sports team or campus-wide parties. We, hopefully, focus on the right things. I will be using a lot of Unbound community examples, so if you aren’t plugged in the community yet, get plugged in! You can apply these principles to developing any friendship, real-life or online. Be proactive and intentional Sounds cliche, I know. But it’s only a cliche because it works. And works tremendously well for our community. Since we do not see our college friends on a day-to-day basis, we need to apply our self-starting quality to our friendships. Friendships are relationships, and relationships, especially long distance ones, are something to be maintained. Being proactive and intentional means taking the first step in catching up with someone, sending them a text, or calling them. It means looking for opportunities to be together. It means reading this list for ideas on how to cultivate the friendship. Use social media GASP! Social media!? Isn’t that thing disconnecting us from people? Well, yes and no. When you have no other way to connect to the other person, social media is a Godsend. Will the connection be shallow? To a point. There’s no replacement for face-to-face communication. Add the person on Facebook. Seeing the little about their personal lives that they show their friends’ circles will give you more to talk about. Don’t be creepy about it. Let it grow naturally. Of course, there’s always a balance that needs to be struck. We can’t be spending our noses stuck in our phones or scrolling down Facebook while we study. The great benefit of social media is the ease and immediacy of access. It is instant and takes little thought. Hence why one needs social media as a tool to grow friendships.
Make a point to talk about deeper topics The most rewarding conversations I have had was when the participants made it a point to talk about the deeper topics. Deeper topics include theology, philosophy, politics, and such. This was a recurring theme in the Unbound community. I realized how shallow my friendships were with people in real life. Now I make it a practice to bring a deep topic to be talked about with a group of close friends at least once or twice a week. It’s a bit awkward at first sometimes. If you were ever at a traditional school, talking about deep topics were sometimes forced. Your grades depended on it. It felt artificial. That awkwardness still happens. You will get used to it. And you will learn about your friends and their thought processes much more than ever before. Pray together Building on the deeper topics point, the deepest “conversations” I’ve had with friends were at prayer times. Our secret wants and needs and goals are shared with others and with our Heavenly Father up above in Jesus’s name. For fellow Unbound students, this might take on the form of the Empower Prayer Meeting calls we have been having. But private prayer time with just a few close knit friends works, too. It’s an even deeper intimacy gained. Have experiences together When it is time to meet in “real life”, to grow the friendships, you need to make it count. Whether it is a local coffee “date”, a state Engage event, the national APEX event, a missions trip, or the study abroad trip, making a memory is crucial. Back when Unbound was College Plus, we called student events "gatherings." Much of it was unofficial and student-led. Today, we have more official events sponsored by Unbound that takes care of many of the details. Use the opportunity to take a lot of pictures. I know many who were so invested in the event that they forgot to have some memorabilia. I still look back at past student event albums and feel the nostalgia. And with those nostalgic memories one can build lasting friendships. Always get time off work and classes for trips that take more than a few days far in advance. Take care of transportation to the destination early on as well. Go to life milestone events A bit of a tangent from having experiences together is going to friends’ life milestone events. What are life milestone events? Graduations. Weddings. Birthdays. Showers. Funerals? When parents dragged me to events like these, they weren’t that fun at all. But now as an adult, I choose to go because they are the only excuses I have to see friends I made online. I’ve personally been to a wedding of a fellow Unbound student as recently as last summer. I haven’t seen him for years. I’ve always planned to see him before his wedding but didn’t get a chance to. Now that I went, I witnessed and became part of something important in his life. I know that a group of Unbound students once traveled to Arkansas together. A fellow family of Unbound students lost some family members in a tornado, and when it was time to pay our respects, we raised money and went to minister to them. It was a sad time, but it was a precious time. Do a project together I find that working on something together solidifies friendship to an almost unbreakable bond. Go in business together. If that is too risky, volunteer for something. How about joining our Unbound community leaders? Empower call team? Unofficial newsletter team? The Unbound Legacy Writers? Or better yet, start your own initiative. I still have friends from College Plus student body elections, student society, student groups, and other projects that I talk to semi-regularly… and I made those friendships 4-7 years ago. (Yes, I have been with Unbound for a long, long time.) I just recently joined another Unbound student project to pitch my marketing skills. With said project, I have made new friends and am working with students and alumni I already know. I think it makes for a great experience and also looks good on the resume. Growing friendships after college is an achievable and rewarding goal. If you are to remember anything I wrote, be proactive and intentional. With that mindset, you can have great friendships while being Unbound. Even today as an alumni, I am blessed with friends I have made from the community. Wherever you are around the world, grow the friendships you found in college. Written by Sam Garcia.