Cardigan, thrifted F21 | Button-down, Burlington Coat Factory (men's section) | Skirt, China | Necklace, Love Nail Tree | Boots, Tommy Hilfiger
My heart pounded as I scanned the dining hall. Dishes full of the oh-so-appetizing bland vegan offerings balanced precariously in my arms, I gingerly began walking the direction of my first subject.
Much to my relief, she smiled. "Of course!"
Over the next few days, I found myself initiating more conversations with strangers, be it in my dining hall, or on the subways of Boston. As an extrovert who has no trouble making small talk, it was surprisingly nerve-wracking to plunge into my social psych experiment.
For our norm violation paper, my partner and I chose to converse with strangers. After the early weeks of freshman year, I've noticed my classmates retreat to their small circle of friends, rarely sitting with more distant acquaintances, let alone strangers. Gone are the days when group boundaries had yet to appear, and reaching out to new faces was the norm. Luckily, this experiment was a good excuse reach out.
I've spoken in Mandarin with a Chinese native on the Boston subway. I've met fellow students who are impressively well-rounded. I've talked music with a girl rocking a fierce red undercut. I've been inspired by the extensive travels of my college's film department coordinator.
Of my twelve subjects, not a single response was negative. Eleven people were happy to make small talk, one was neutral but polite. Of the subjects I was able to debrief, I asked the following questions: What was your initial reaction to my approach? Why do you think people often choose to keep to themselves?
Several people were surprised at first. Others thought nothing of it. Many found the conversation a pleasant experience and wished that people reached out more often.
They hypothesized that people in general were afraid of being vulnerable. Of the possibility of rejection. Of appearing weird for breaking a social norm. Or, perhaps that they've internalized a previous negative experience interacting with strangers.
But with the risk of rejection comes the possibility of connection. That's a chance I was happy to take, and will continue to be happy taking.