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Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite

Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite
Fast

My friend Stefan Hagemann has observed that so many students on a college campus seem to be elsewhere. As I walk around my university’s campus, I understand what he means: phone conversations, text-messaging, and iPod management can take precedence over attention to one’s surroundings. Even without the distractions of a gadget, the sidewalks and quads of a campus sometimes turn into nothing more than empty yardage to be traversed, as quickly as possible, on the way from one class to the next.

I like Marcel Proust’s words: N’allez pas trop vite. Don’t go too fast. It might not be practical to slow down when one has ten minutes to get from one end of a campus to the other. But a college student might benefit in numerous ways from slowing down and looking at and learning about her or his surroundings. Here are five suggestions:

1. Learn about a building, your residence hall perhaps, or a classroom building. How old is it? Who designed it? What style of architecture does it represent? For whom was it named? Did it serve another purpose in the past? What if anything once stood where it was built? A neighborhood? A cornfield? These kinds of questions might spark more general ones: What’s the oldest building on your campus? What buildings retain significant original elements? Noticing old light fixtures, old doorknobs, old signage (painted by hand on doors and walls), and old staircases (their steps worn from generations of shoes) can help you recognize the history that you’re walking through every day.

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2. Give some attention to the monuments and portraits that most students (and faculty) walk past. Commemorative plaques, presidential portraits, class gifts (sometimes in the form of a fountain or gate), memorials to alumni in military service: all these can help you to recognize that as a college student, you’re a member of a community that spans generations of endeavor. I remember studying, as an undergraduate, a stained-glass library window with the university seal, and realizing that students could have been looking at the same seal in the same window fifty years before.

3. Learn some legends. Stories, natural and supernatural, abound on college campuses. Learning some local lore (perhaps through clippings or microfilm in the library) might brighten (or darken!) your experience of campus life. If you’re interested in historical research, looking into such stories might lead you to material for a paper, a thesis, or an article in a campus publication.

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4. Browse through some old yearbooks. They’re likely to be available in the library, and they make for fascinating reading. Yearbooks offer an easy and sometimes poignant way to come close to the lives of earlier generations of college life. Those students who look so young, perhaps younger than you: how old are they now? What did professors (perhaps your professors) look like twenty years ago? Where did everyone go before Starbucks and Subway? A yearbook can help you begin to think about such things.

5. Journey into the unknown. Look into an unfamiliar part of the campus, an unfamiliar building, an unfamiliar part of the library. Academic buildings, especially older ones, are filled with nooks and crannies. You might find a great, unexpected place to study by exploring an unfamiliar part of your campus.

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And by that time, it might be time to get back to work.

Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art. He is reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for the second time.

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[Note: Proust’s remark N’allez pas trop vite was recorded by British diplomat Harold Nicolson, who met Proust at a party in 1919. Proust asked Nicolson to slow down and add detail to his account of the post-war peace conference. The story of this meeting may be found in Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997).]

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Last Updated on August 12, 2019

How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

The hardest part of socializing, for many people, is how to start a conversation. However, it is a big mistake to go about life not making the first move and waiting for someone else to do it [in conversation or anything].

This isn’t to say you must always be the first in everything or initiate a conversation with everyone you see. What should be said, though, is once you get good at starting conversations, a lot of other things will progress in the way you want; such as networking and your love life.

Benefits of Initiating a Conversation

First thing is you should acknowledge why it is a good thing to be able to initiate conversations with strangers or people who you don’t know well:

  • You’re not a loner with nothing to do.
  • You look more approachable if you are comfortable approaching others.
  • Meeting new people means developing a network of friends or peers which leads to more knowledge and experiences.

You can only learn so much alone, and I’m sure you’re aware of the benefits of learning from others. Being able to distinguish the ‘good from bad’ amongst a group of people will help in building a suitable network, or making a fun night.

All people are good in their own way. Being able to have a good time with anybody is a worthy trait and something to discuss another time. However, if you have a specific purpose while in social situations, you may want to stick with people who are suitable.

This means distinguishing between people who might suit you and your ‘purpose’ from those who probably won’t. This can require some people-judging, which I am generally very opposed to. However, this does make approaching people all the more easier.

It helps to motivate the conversation if you really want to know this person. Also, you’ll find your circle of friends and peers grows to something you really like and enjoy.

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The Rules

I don’t have many rules in this life, for conversation or anything; but when it comes to approaching strangers, there are a few I’d like used.

  1. Be polite. Within context, don’t be a creepy, arrogant loudmouth or anything. Acknowledge that you are in the company of strangers and don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. First impressions mean something.
  2. Keep it light. Don’t launch into a heartfelt rant or a story of tragedy. We’re out to have fun.
  3. Don’t be a prude. This just means relax. This isn’t a science and conversation isn’t a fine art. Talk to people like you’re already friends.
  4. Be honest. Be yourself. People can tell.

Who To Talk To?

I’m of the ilk that likes to talk to everyone and anyone. Everyone has a story and good personalities. Some are harder to get to than others, but if you’re on a people-finding excursion, like I usually am, then everyone is pretty much fair game.

That said, if you’re out at a function and you want to build a network of people in your niche, you will want to distinguish those people from the others. Find the ‘leaders’ in a group of people or ask around for what you’re looking for.

In a more general environment, like at a bar, you will want to do the same sort of thing. Acknowledge what you actually want and try to distinguish suitable people. Once you find someone, or a group of people, that you want to meet and talk to, hop to it.

Think of a few things you might have in common. What did you notice about their dress sense?

Building Confidence

The most important part of initiating conversation is, arguably, having confidence. It should be obvious that without any amount of self-esteem you will struggle. Having confidence in yourself and who you are makes this job very easy.

If you find yourself doubting your worth, or how interesting you are, make a few mental notes of why you are interesting and worth talking to. There is no question you are. You just have to realize that.

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What do I do? What is interesting about it? What are my strong points and what are my weak ones? Confident people succeed because they play on their strengths.

Across the Room Rapport

This is rapport building without talking. It’s as simple as reciprocated eye contact and smiles etc. Acknowledging someone else’s presence before approaching them goes a long way to making introductions easier. You are instantly no longer just a random person.

In my other article How Not To Suck At Socializing, there are things you can do to make yourself appear approachable. This doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to flock to you. You’ll still probably need to initiate conversations.

People notice other people who are having a blast. If you’re that person, someone will acknowledge it and will make the ‘across the room rapport’ building a breeze. If you’re that person that is getting along great with their present company, others will want to talk to you. This will make your approach more comfortable for both parties.

The Approach

When it comes to being social, the less analytical and formulaic you are the better. Try not to map out your every move and plan too much. Although we are talking about how to initiate conversation, these are really only tips. When it comes to the approach, though, there are some things you should keep in mind.

Different situations call for different approaches. Formal situations call for something more formal and relaxed ones should be relaxed.

At a work function, for instance, be a little formal and introduce yourself. People will want to know who you are and what you do right away. This isn’t to say you should only talk about work, but an introduction and handshake is appropriate.

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If you’re at a bar, then things are very different and you should be much more open to unstructured introductions. Personally, I don’t like the idea of walking directly to someone to talk to them. It’s too direct. I like the sense of randomness that comes with meeting new people.

However, if there is rapport already established, go for it. If not, take a wander, buy a drink and be aware of where people are. If there is someone you would like to talk to, make yourself available and not sit all night etc.

When someone is alone and looks bored, do them a favor and approach them. No matter how bad the conversation might get, they should at least appreciate the company and friendliness.

Briefly, Approaching Groups

When integrating with an established group conversation, there is really one thing to know. That is to establish the ‘leader’ and introduce yourself to them. I mentioned that before, but here is how and why.

The why is the leader of a group conversation is probably the more social and outgoing. They will more readily accept your introduction and then introduce you to the rest of the group. This hierarchy in a group conversation is much more prevalent in formal situations where one person is leading the conversation.

A group of friends out for the night is much more difficult to crack. This may even be another topic for discussion, but one thing I know that works is initiating conversation with a ‘stray’. It sounds predatorial, but it works.

More often than not, this occurs without intention. But if you do really want to get into a group of friends, your best bet is approaching one of them while they are away from the group and being invited into the group.

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It is possible, like everything, to approach a group outright and join them. However, this is almost an art and requires another specific post.

Topics Of Conversation

Other than confidence, the next thing people who have trouble initiating conversations lack is conversation! So here are a few tips to get the ball rolling:

  • Small talk sucks. It’s boring and a lot of people already begin to zone out when questions like, “What do you do?” or “What’s with this weather?” come up. Just skip it.
  • Everything is fair game. If you are in the company of someone and a thought strikes you, share it. “This drink is garbage! What are you drinking?” “Where did you get that outfit?”
  • Opinions matter. This is any easy way to hit the ground running in conversation. Everyone has one, and when you share yours, another will reveal itself. The great thing about this line of thought is that you are instantly learning about the other person and what they like, dislike etc.
  • Environment. The place you’re in is full of things to comment on. The DJ, band, fashions; start talking about what you see.
  • Current events. Unless it’s something accessible or light-hearted, forget it. Don’t launch into your opinion on the war or politics. If your town has recently hosted a festival, ask what they think about it.

Exiting Conversation

Although I’d like to write a full post on exiting strategies for conversations you don’t want to be in, here are some tips:

  • The first thing is don’t stay in a conversation you’re not interested in. It’ll show and will be no fun for anyone.
  • Be polite and excuse yourself. You’re probably out with friends, go back to them.  Or buy a drink. Most people will probably want to finish the conversation as much as you.

Likewise, you could start another conversation.

If you’d like to learn more tips about starting a conversation, this guide maybe useful for you: How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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