Starting university can be challenging. Adapting to a new environment, new friends, and for some a new country, can be a lot of pressure in the first few weeks. 

Despite your nerves, remember there are tens of thousands starting university just like you, experiencing the same jitters and hoping for someone to say hello. 

When I started uni I was terrified to talk to anyone or ask questions. I thought, "I can do it by myself. I don't need anyone." I was worried I would be perceived as naive, uncool or even a "loser" if I did. 

Being afraid to ask for help or suggestions caused me countless heartaches, big and small. A memorable one included catching the bus to UNSW in the wrong direction and ending up stranded in the middle of Sydney's Eastgardens. 

I found my way home, but not before forking out $30 – a huge amount on my first-year budget – on a taxi to the closest train station. 

After many such mishaps, I realised I could not navigate university alone. Finding companions was essential.

I joined the faculty of engineering's peer mentoring program, which helped me find my way around, discover short cuts and make friends with students studying the same degree. We first-years navigated ideal bus routes to and from uni, shared knowledge of cheap eateries around campus and formed a contact group for assignments and tests.

Friendships and connections do not need to be complicated. Often a smile here, a hello there and a sprinkle of conversation is all it takes. Although it may be scary to approach strangers, it is well worth the effort.

Now I'm a mentor, I can help new students become aware of uni services – from essay-writing workshops to how to effectively use the library and online services.

University is a long journey. My advice is to make the most of it with people you genuinely find interesting and who find you genuinely interesting. 

Here are my top tips: 

1. Avoid ethnic stereotypes as conversation icebreakers. When referring to my Lebanese heritage, an instant response I get from people is "Habibi" (darling). Although I do admit I find it humorous, others may not. 

2. There is no such thing as a silly question; do not feel intimidated – ask for help or support. Asking can save you time and angst. 

3. Go to Orientation Week and participate, as O-week events are for new students. You may meet someone in your degree and they may turn out to be a companion. 

4. If you are fresh out of school, do not brag about your amazing ATAR. Everyone at uni has done exceptionally well to get to where they are. As spectacular as your mark may be, talking about your results may intimidate those around you.

5. Keep an eye out for transport buddies. You may be surprised at the sheer numbers who catch your train or bus. Wave, say hello and introduce yourself. Some of my closest uni friends were my train buddies and the one-on-one contact is ideal if you get nervous talking to people in large settings.

6. Talk about your feelings with your parents, counsellors, loved ones or even your peer mentoring group. Bottling up your worries and fears will only add to the stress and the pressure you already face. 

7. If you notice someone with the same lecture notes as yours, chances are they are in the same class. Say hello.

8. Whether you're a fan of exotic chocolate or vintage comic books, the social life university has to offer is more dynamic than any organisation you will come across. When you're meeting people with the same interests, a conversation is not so awkward.

Zeina Tebbo is a senior engineering student and peer mentor at UNSW.

This opinion piece was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald.