As College senior Ashley Bernard approached the front door of Capogiro, Wharton senior Ankit Shah enveloped her in a hug. They were soon joined by College senior Muhammed Ziauddin, and the conversation flowed from the group’s unanimous wish to marry Hermoine Granger to the idea of solipsism. They shared their life stories and talked about their hopes and dreams for the next three hours.
All three of them had never met before, did not know what each other looked like beforehand and had come together for the first time under Shah’s appeal to the Penn community: “Let’s Get Tea.”
Just under two weeks ago, Shah decided to build a website inviting anyone from Penn to sign up to grab tea with him. He wanted to meet new people and start conversations, especially since this is his last year at Penn.
“Every single time I meet somebody here, I’m like, ‘Why didn’t I meet you freshman year? You’re awesome!’” he said. “When it hit me that I’m having this thought process every single night when I meet people, it was just like … maybe I should do something about it.”
The first tea happened on March 29, and starting April 4 until graduation, Shah will be spending three hours per night every weekday at Capogiro having tea with mostly people he has never met.
“When I first built it, I thought maybe ten people would sign up, and I thought anyone else who saw it would think it was weird,” he said. “Even if everyone else thinks I’m weird and ten people see it, it’s ten more than zero, so that will be nice. And now I [have] like, so far, 160 and counting. That’s really humbling.”
Originally, Shah planned to have 30-minute slots in which people could sign up for one-on-one conversations. Besides getting tea, he also offered the option of going on a run or having lunch. However, he soon realized that “meaningful conversations don’t happen in fifteen minutes — they take time to marinate.” He soon switched the format so that people could stay beyond their time slots if they wanted to, and so far, all but one person have stayed to the very end.
“Initially, that blew my mind, and then I was like — wait, everybody wants to have these conversations. That’s really special.”
Ziauddin agreed, saying, “I signed up because I thought this was a unique event. Many Penn students don’t take the opportunity to learn about others at Penn and I felt that I was falling into the culture.”
As the night went on, five more people joined the table at different points, sharing their own experiences, eccentric hobbies and even a song accompanied by a ukulele. The night ended with some of the participants exchanging contact information, or making plans to meet up and grab dinner with a mutual friend.
“What I think is really cool is when the people I’m meeting meet other people I’m meeting,” Shah said. “It’s like everybody gets a part of the pie and the pie is never-ending, the pie being meaningful conversations and awesome people and new relationships.”
A previous version of the photo caption misidentified Shah as a College senior. He is a Wharton senior.
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