Why you should be talking to strangers

Your parents were wrong, it’s really good for you

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Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. 

Emma Klein | Cavalier Daily

My grandfather has mastered the art of talking to new people. While spending time with him as a child, I would become embarrassed when he’d casually strike up a conversation with anyone he met. This happened especially in lively restaurants, and I’d return from the bathroom to find him deep in discussion with an entire row of tables. He was never impolite or too nosy, but it’s obviously socially taboo to simply begin chatting with everyone you meet.  

Surprise! People were engaged and wanted to talk about everything. I heard stories of accomplishments and struggles from complete strangers. I’ve tried to emulate my grandfather during my own conversations by keeping the focus on the other person — people have stories they want to share and are willing to tell them.

The other week I was caught in a spontaneous downpour while trying to walk home after my discussion. The heavy drops threatened the safety of my laptop and eliminated any chance of making a run for it. I turned to the girl I had just met during the discussion — we had just connected through confessing that neither of us understood the material and agreed it would be best to wait out the storm.  

Our conversation turned from schoolwork to discussing life in America. She is studying abroad here for the semester and was shocked by the differences and similarities between America and her home country. 

“Is Virginia supposed to be just as rainy and humid as Australia? I was expecting cooler weather.”

We continued to chat for another 20 minutes and followed each other on Instagram, resting until the rain slowed enough so that we could leave, going in opposite directions. As I walked away uplifted by our exchange, I realized that the scenario had a next to nothing chance of occuring in the first place. Without the rainstorm, we never would have had the conversation. I had slipped into the habit of only speaking to new people when convenient and was forced by a rain storm to step out of my comfort zone.

During first year, everyone is constantly searching for new people to connect with, whether it be in classes, dorms or the dining hall. This subsides by second semester as everyone settles down. I realized my newest friends were made at the beginning of the second semester of my first year, and since then my friend group hasn’t expanded. While this is natural, I missed the excitement of knowing I could meet a potential friend at any point.  

How many more people could I have made connections with if I maintained that same energy? After the conversation, I decided to revisit the way I socialize with others and try to connect with new people when it feels appropriate — just like my grandfather.

Last semester I sat next to the same person in class, and we spoke a handful of times. It’s bizarre that we can spend hours in someone’s presence and barely interact with them. In a school with 16,000 undergraduate students, we likely will only meet a fraction of people who attend the University, but somehow you seem to run into the same people. 

Why not say “hi?” While it’s easier to be inwardly focused, it’s much more intriguing to reach out to others. It’s fine if people want to be left alone, but most people respond positively and want to carry on a conversation. There’s not much to lose from being genuinely friendly. People love talking about the things they are proud of and sometimes need to vent about things they’re struggling with, even if it’s with a stranger.  

Listening to the lives and perspectives of others grows our understanding of the world in a way that can’t be learned in books or a classroom. At the very least, you can come away with a new friendly face on Grounds.

Josie Sydnor is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com

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