Study Abroad: Connect with people; talk to strangers

Sophie Pauline, Correspondent

There are many life lessons that I have been learning on this study abroad journey thus far, but one that is at the forefront of my mind is the importance of connecting with people.

What sparked these thoughts specifically today was a trip to Starbucks; all good things do begin with coffee, am I right?

Between lectures I thought I would wander down to the local Starbucks to redeem a coupon I had for a free coffee, which as any penny-pinching university student knows, are two beautiful things – coffee and free.

As I was queuing, quite anxious to deliver the small slip of paper in return for a piping hot cup of dreams, the man in front of me was having trouble with his debit card. He and the cashier fumbled between two cards and three methods of swiping as my eyes caught the little digital screen that read “£2.00.”

My eyes shifted from the till to my coupon to the man’s dimming face. I said good-bye to the sumptuous no-cost-coffee day and offered to pay for his drink. He refused, as most people probably would, but I assured him that I was getting a free coffee, so no worries should be had on his part.

He thanked me profusely, shook my hand, and skipped off with a smile as bright as the sun in the sky.

Okay, maybe I got a little carried away with the last part; I’m in London, remember, not much more sun than Scranton. Nonetheless, he was a happy.

Now, I’m not sharing this anecdote in order to portray myself as a ‘Good Samaritan’ who people should look to for example; I couldn’t handle that kind of pressure. It’s just moments like these when I’m forced to step out of my own self-interest and recognize the humans around me.

This could happen anywhere, but right now, this connects to my study abroad experience.

Since my arrival I have been constantly forced out of my comfort zone in terms of connecting with people. I knew no one. I had to make fast friends or else this whole trip could be a nightmare.

Among the fears that no one would like me because I’m weird or I’m American or because I’m a ginger, I remembered that they’re all human; probably very unique and intriguing humans, but also flawed, displaced, university student humans.

Making small talk on a bus ride with someone you recognize from class can result in finding a new friend. Talking on the surface about your interests can lead to finding a buddy to see musicals with. Introducing a new friend to a song you are currently obsessing over can end in hours of exchanging music. All these small moments may seem insignificant on their own, but when happening in close succession, they can clearly have an impact.

Not only have I made connections with people who were just complete strangers living a 24-hour plane ride away, but I have had the opportunity to rekindle relationships that have lain dormant for years.

With social media at our fingertips, we see snapshots of previous acquaintances’ lives, like former high school classmates who are now also studying in the UK, and can decide whether or not to take this chance to message them and meet up or keep scrolling through the newsfeed.

I took a spontaneous trip to Rome because my high school classmate was staying there. My friends and I met a busker (a street performer) by the Tate Modern and then received personal invites to his gigs around London. I struck up a conversation with a guy who was waiting at a bus stop with me, and we had a lovely talk that brightened both of our days.

This trip has led me to seize opportunities for human connection, whether they’ve resulted in a lifelong friend or a simple smile. Too often I find myself wrapped up in my own agenda–where I need to go and who I’m ‘supposed’ to see. I too often fail to recognize the people around me. Here’s to the people I’ve met and to the people I’ve yet to meet.