For each Penn student, there exists a specific type of connection. By virtue of seeing them around campus, you might know their name or recognize their face. A curt nod of acknowledgement might be also given in greeting, but that’s about where it ends. They lie just peripheral to your circle of acquaintances, but they are not mere strangers either. You know of them.
Simply put, you’ve never got around to introducing yourself. The first one or two missed opportunities to do so are long a thing of the past. And somehow, an invisible, but seemingly insurmountable barrier has grown in its place stopping you from doing just that.
With every semester at Penn, this pool of pseudo-acquaintances inevitably grows. Yet, with a comfortable number of people to hang out with, there seems to be no pressing need to reach out and build new connections. Inadvertently, most upperclassmen end up avoiding opportunities to meet new people. We scout out friends to take courses together; for group projects, we’ve already chosen who we’ll work with before the first day of classes even comes around.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Penn students, from first years to seniors, should still take the initiative to reach out. What’s stopping us? Ourselves.
The old adage goes that college is all about expanding horizons. And truly, what better way to expand your horizons than by meeting and speaking with new people? Deep down, we know this. However, as school work, responsibilities, and expectations pile up, the enthusiasm wanes. We push this task aside repeatedly to attend to other more pressing issues. The original intent of reaching out has withered to but a shadow of an afterthought — a forgotten relic from the first semester of freshman year.
Growing up, I was always told that college is where people should expect to build lifelong relationships. It’s no doubt a rosy prospect and also one with a grain of truth in it. However, it’s also an intimidating standard that can serve counterproductively.
"I don’t think I would be best friends with this person," you think to yourself.
"It might be awkward if I reach out." "What would we even talk about?" "What if we don’t have anything in common?"
Your thoughts drift into an ever-rolling list of conjectures. It’s what my elementary teacher used to call the “what if” game. Instead of making conversation, you end up simulating worst-case scenarios — an apocalyptic rewatch of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" in your head. But when you think about it, what do people look for in a friend? What do you look for in a friend? Some traits that probably score high on the list might include authenticity, trustworthiness or kindness. Did a seamless first interaction make the list? Probably not.
The secret is: you don’t have to be best friends. It’s a bit of an anticlimactic answer, I know — the op-ed equivalent of Po’s Dragon Scroll in "Kung Fu Panda." But by reaching out, you’re not signing a contract declaring you both friends for life. There’s always the potential for something greater to grow out of it. However, not every relationship worth pursuing needs to turn out that way.
What’s more, through reaching out you are living and breathing the diversity that Penn has to offer. The spectrum of backgrounds, personalities, and aspirations enrich the woven fabric of our campus community. But consider this: diversity that merely coexists without interaction is no real diversity at all. If Penn students just formed small homogenous cliques that rarely reached out to each other, all that precious diversity is, frankly, wasted.
As the spring semester starts up, it’s a golden opportunity to reach out. Work hasn’t yet started to overwhelm and people are just now entering an array of new classes. So, the next time you walk into your classes and see all the faces — new and old — greet them. It’s great to sit next to your friends whom you haven’t had a chance to catch up with, but try to turn around and meet someone new. Better yet, sit next to someone to whom you haven’t had the chance to introduce yourself.
There are a wide variety of ways in which friendships can grow and flourish. However, they can all start in a similar fashion. A genuine smile. A warm introduction. The rest takes care of itself. You never know — perhaps you will turn a nodding acquaintance into a friend.
ANDREW LOU is a Wharton and Engineering junior studying finance, statistics, and computer science from Connecticut. His email is email@example.com.