By Bentic Sebastian
When I came to the University of Illinois, I was the only student from my high school who was studying here. During the first few weeks, it was quite difficult for me to enjoy my new college life partly because I did not know anybody yet. Sometimes, I felt so homesick that I thought that people I saw on Green Street looked like my close friends back home. However, being new to the US presented an opportunity for me to meet and learn about people who grew up in a different culture from me. It was now up to me to start meeting new people and gradually forming strong friendships during my years here.
Since I was from a different country, I faced a lot of difficulties in making good conversations because I was quite self-conscious about my accent. As you know, about 32,000 undergraduates study at our university. That’s a lot of students, and potential friends! I decided to improve my conservation by practising making them with at least 5 new people every week. By talking to new people, I hoped I could gradually get better at perfecting my own accent and learning about the American vocabulary. Here is what I found out about making a stimulating conversation at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
“What topics could I talk about?” I wondered. I thought about all the things I shared in common with other students at the university. Can you guess my favorite topic to talk about? There are many astonishing facts and interesting stories around the walls of our campus, and talking about them can lead to a very stimulating conversation about the culture of the university and its students. I found that I could talk about anything, as long they were interesting in content, not too personal, and didn’t lead to negative feelings. I generally didn’t talk about religions or politics, because these topics usually were too personal, heavily opinionated, and led to strong negative feelings and conflicts.
“Where and when could I have interesting conversations?” was my next question. Social events hosted by the university were very helpful for meeting new students, but there were many more opportunities for me to meet new people. During the first week of the semester, I was able to talk to some students in the first few minutes before lectures started. I also attended general meetings of student organisations that I was interested in, and met many new people. We talked about the student organisation because that was a common interest between us. For instance, I attended the meeting of a Robotics club, and met new students by asking questions about robots, which was a common interest shared by everyone at the meeting. I was able to introduce myself to several juniors and seniors in these organisations as well. They were a very useful resource, as they helped me to understand how to make the most of the opportunities I had at the University of Illinois. When I was at my dormitory, I had many interesting conversations with my floor-mates by keeping my door open when I was in my room. I also took some time off studies to go out with friends, and it was a perfect time to have fun conversations because we forgot about the stressful college work for a while.
I have met a lot of people who are not aware of the difference in cultures around the world, simply because they have not had the opportunity to travel to places outside their home towns. As a student, I frequently met two types of students at my university. Some students were sincerely interested in getting to know about different cultures by meeting international students. However, a small number of students assumed that popular stereotypes were true for all international students, and they weren’t ready to change their views easily. Fortunately, I met many students from the first category, and I was equally intrigued by their culture in the United States. Perhaps the most striking realization for me was how people born in America had a strong sense of pride in their country, regardless of their ethnic background. Unless people wanted to talk about their ancestry, I respected their identity as Americans, and avoided asking them further questions about their ethnic roots.
In the quest to find good friends, I found it valuable to be patient. I preferred being honest to make slow and steady friendships, rather than pretending to be someone else to have a quick but short relationship. Just as you may feel scared to initiate conversations, there are many new students who are just as scared to talk to you.There is a common thread between all of us, we are all college students, and sometimes the best resource available to you to help you make the most of your college experience may be the person sitting right next to you!