Do you remember your first day of college? I do. I remember nervously pacing through the dining hall, deciding where to sit. Even behind my free “Welcome to Michigan” mask, I concealed my smile of bubbly excitement, hoping to be seen as “cool.” I was energized yet quiet, nervous yet ready, shy yet confident. But cool? I was everything but cool. Accompanied by my roommate and a few new friends from my hall, we would scan the cafeteria and debate among ourselves who to sit next to. Finally, one of us would take the leap of faith and ask, “Is this seat taken?” (which was almost always accompanied by a welcoming “No, go ahead.”)
Regardless of whether these exchanges would lead to lifelong friendships or temporary acquaintances, I loved these first interactions. While I was lucky enough to meet some of my closest friends through these random exchanges, I also encountered many interesting people, from a college freshman from Zambia who was still learning the difference between American states and cities to the creator of the new M-Bus app, who initially created the app for his own personal use.
Even though I now forget many of the names of the people I met, I still learned something new every time and was opened up to new perspectives. So why did I stop meeting new people?
Maybe it was because I had grown accustomed to life on campus? Maybe it was because everyone else stopped doing it? Or maybe it was just because I was nervous. Regardless of the reason, after stopping exploring new friendships with my seating arrangements following the first few weeks of school, I missed the warmth of engaging with new people. And while many of these one-time conversations can be repetitive and often dry, there is something satisfying about seeing one more familiar face in the crowd of a thousand, even if it is only followed by the occasional nod when passing them on the way to class. Plus, you have nothing to lose: there are no stakes. In the case where you two don’t hit it off (which is honestly the more likely outcome), no one is keeping you from simply walking to another table.
So this past week was a new first: my first second semester of college. Even though I now feel comfortable here at the University of Michigan, I didn’t let that stop me from introducing myself to new people. Whether it be people from my classes, a friend of a friend or a random stranger in the dining hall, I enjoyed making these new connections again. After all, you never know who you are going to meet.
I know this is easier said than done, so I challenge you. Put yourself out there. The next time you are in the dining hall alone, take your leap of faith. Ask if the seat is taken.
MiC Columnist Deven Parikh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.