Barney taught us how to make friends at the four-year-old level, but fast forward 15 years, and it’s suddenly not so easy.

Yes, on a campus of 18,000, it’s actually hard to make friends at UNC. Many incoming students are already acquainted with old buds from their high schools, and it’s easy to stick to one’s comfort zone and decline to reach out.

I’ve spoken with some of this year’s freshmen and they, too, acknowledge this reality. So I’m here to offer you the same advice I’m offering them: get involved.

My favorite way to get involved – one of the pillars of the Carolina Way, btw – is through volunteer work. Obviously, volunteer opportunities stare you down from every inch of campus. Meander through the Pit at noon and you’ll wind up with fliers for six different organizations that could use your help. However, signing up to volunteer and actually going through with it? Two different things.

It took me about two months into my freshman year to realize I was doing something wrong. I set a personal goal for my first October at Carolina to (yup, you guessed it) get more involved. I thought I was missing out on the “Carolina Experience,” using a South Campus residence as an excuse to stay in my dorm room. Turns out, I was right.

The most encouraging activity I participated in during my freshman year was volunteering at a haunted house through the National Society of Leadership and Success. Six people wound up at the Durham Jaycees’ Haunted House that chilly October night. The two girls I rode with would later become my best friends. In the brief 30-minute car ride, Molly, Megan and I immediately connected. We talked about, of all things, the difficulty of making friends at Carolina.

Three months later, I joined the society’s executive board, where Molly already sat as co-vice president and Megan as president. In April, the three of us were on the society’s Relay for Life team. At Relay, we met Dan. And there’s something about staying awake for 18 hours with a group that cements a pretty strong bond. Dan, it turns out, shared our hell-raising love of perilous adventure. Six weeks later, the four of us found ourselves whitewater rafting in the middle of a thunderstorm in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and having the time of our lives.

Last Friday, Megan invited me and Molly over to her house for a night of s’mores, friends and a bonfire. Megan introduced us to her roommate, friends from N.C. State University, old acquaintances and neighbors. Despite only meeting these people for the first time, I noticed a level of comfort already existed among us; there was no need for small talk, no shame in recounting embarrassing stories. Burning marshmallows together will do that.

I love the endless opportunities to meet people at UNC. When was the last time you sat under the stars with a random group of people and made s’mores? I just wish it was easier to find these companions. With the advent of the Durham Jaycees’ Haunted House upon us once again, Molly, Megan and I mused over the fact that a year ago, I hadn’t even met them. How different, how boring my life would be without them.

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The ones who are willing to try something new are the people you want to get to know anyway. Seriously, get your hands dirty. You may find yourself whitewater rafting with your future best friends not too long from now.

-Sonya Chudgar