In my experience, the culture of nursing school is far different than the culture of a nursing work environment. I also experienced an almost dichotomous feel of the classroom, so I know what you mean. I avoided the cliques and just did my own thing and talked to everyone, although purposefully didn't make close friends with anyone. Personally, I abhor being identified with a certain group of people (which is why I make it a point NOT to check the box "Caucasian" when filling out a survey. Does anyone know where Caucasia is anyway?!?
) and prefer to be casually friendly with everyone in the group.
Yes, there are cliques in every nursing unit, no matter which one you pick. I was born without the chip that programmed me to care about being popular, accepted, etc., and therefore wasn't affected much by the cliques that were present in the unit. (I actually think this comes from being a total airhead about alliances/cliques/politics, but that's just between you and me...and all of AN!) Most people don't know this about me, but I am actually a VERY shy person. I overcompensate by being silly, cracking jokes and sharing appropriately self deprecating stories so my shyness does not come across as being aloof. It drains me mentally to do this, but during a feedback session in my very first nursing evaluation, my NM told me that my peers misinterpreted my shyness as being aloof, and that's when I made a concerted effort to engage, however uncomfortable it was for me. It paid off, and I am very thankful that I got that feedback early on in my nursing career. I enjoy the camaraderie of my peers and REALLY enjoy debates regarding case studies and brainstorming about problem solving tactics.
It is human nature to value camaraderie. We feel more relaxed when we are among our peers, can share experiences, swap stories, and collaborate with each other when faced with a challenge. On the whole, people WANT to be around other people. As annoying as people can be, they engage us, however subconscious it may be. That's why the harshest punishment (besides lethal injection) in the prison system is solitary confinement. We don't want to be isolated.
If you are your own true self (forgive me if I sound like Oprah, et al) and you have a strong sense of self awareness (i.e., body language, non verbal cues) and you present yourself as willing to learn, being part of a team and engaging your co-workers while being assertive regarding your needs/learning, you will do well. Give it some time once you get to your unit...people tend to welcome newcomers in "phases". Do your homework when you are unsure of new things you learned about with your preceptor, be gentle with yourself when you are learning all the ins and outs of the unit, and thank those that go out of their way to help you. Ask questions and follow up on tasks, reporting back to your preceptor often. If you experience something (let's pretend that you are a new RN on a med/surg unit and you shadowed your preceptor while she did a sterile dressing change with Dakins solution. She goes over the technique, but you want to know more about the Dakins solution and why it's valuable. However, you sense that your preceptor is feeling rushed, so you don't ask about the solution at the time) that you want to know more about, do some research when you get home and then ask your preceptor if what you learned is correct. This effort on your part will show that you have not only initiative in learning, but also that you have a commitment to truly grasping the concepts behind implementations. This will garner you respect from your preceptor, and trust me when I say that your preceptor will share his/her experiences with others on the unit while teaching you.
I hope this helps you to some degree. I understand your concerns, and they are valid. Please keep us posted!