Sitting down next to someone you don’t know is often an anxiety-inducing experience. Deciding how to fluidly introduce yourself is hard enough, never mind holding the conversation! Alas, a difficulty that is rarely overcome.
You may be tempted to consider asking the person next to you what their major is, but I beg you to reconsider. “What’s your major?” is one of the most banal, unstimulating and impersonal questions to ask. Its problem is not in its offense, but in its narrow scope.
This is how a typical first interaction goes in class:
“What’s your major?”
“That’s cool. I’m a bio major.”
No ground is gained from this exchange other than a request for basic biographical information. There is no connection, no emotion. Let’s be honest, we’re all undergrads here, and we’re all basically the same anyway.
But what questions do you ask? Here’s your answer.
Do you play any sports?
Beginning with a simple, wonderfully stimulating question is the best way to introduce yourself. What sport do you play? What position? For how long? What drives you to continue? Tell me about one of your best plays. It’s an inquiry rich with possibilities.
If they don’t play sports, you can make fun of them and tease them for being unathletic. It’ll be great fun.
“You look like you’re good at bowling.”
Though technically not a question, “you look like you’re good at bowling” is such a striking accusation that a discussion is sure to follow. Such an open-ended comment can be received in many ways: confusion, shock, offense. All are emotions you want to evoke when breaking the ice.
“What’s your favorite color?”
This question may seem unappealing at first on account of its simplicity, but I behest you to give it a try. You will rarely find a terse answer to this question. Typical responses will include a pause for thought and deep introspection.
Many will ask themselves, “What IS my favorite color? I like blue, but is it my favorite? Turquoise is nice, but what about teal?” So much from such a little question. When we were children we would have hours-long discussions on this subject. Why did we stop?
There is an alternate British version of this question for your English friends, “What’s your favourite colour?”
“Why are you here?”
On the surface, this interrogative seems simple. “I’m fulfilling a major requirement” “It’s a gen ed,” but it can be so much more. A little bit of imagination takes this question to a rich philosophical inquiry of meaning and purpose, of existence and essence.
Why are you here, in this place, in this time and in this realm? What brought you here, right now? Why did you bring yourself here? A quandary indeed.
“How would you describe your gait?”
A good question elicits a story, a piece of the person’s soul, unlocked by the elegant grace of the soft words, “How would you describe your gait?” What joys your fellow student has been begging to share about the recent observations of their stride.
Do they have a rolling gait or are they sure-footed? What angle do their feet point when they walk? Do they lean more pigeon-toed or are they a waddler? Do they hunch? Do they lumber? Do they plant ball-to-heel or heel-to-ball?
How would you know the answer to these questions when you’re sitting down in class? Ask away, my friend.
“What’s wrong with you?”
We all have our problems, vices and demons. Our flaws are what makes us, us. Wouldn’t it be great to cut through the small talk and deep dive into each other’s souls, motivations, psyche and medical history? We live in a very high stress environment, so wouldn’t it be wonderful to know the person next to you also has an anxiety disorder. What a miracle it would be if the person to your left shared your complete lack of motivation and desire to wake up for online classes last year.
First impressions are everything. You want to stand out, be unique and discard your outdated and bland conversation starters. Put yourself out there and have real, meaningful conversations this semester.
Ben Connolly can be reached at [email protected]