I inadvertently challenged myself to an exercise in fitting in yesterday. After spending an unnecessarily long time unpacking and getting organised in my room, I dragged one of my flatmates, Natalie, along to Falmer House to join one of the Union Tours offered there. Kit, the Union's communications officer, showed a bunch of mostly international students around Falmer House, giving us an idea of just how much our Student Union does. During the tour, Natalie found out that a couple of other students were from Hong Kong like herself, so we grouped up afterwards to grab a hot chocolate at Falmer Bar. It felt perfectly normal at first, the four of us chatting in fluid pairs, mixing English (where I was involved) and Cantonese (where I wasn't). However, Asian people seem to have a tendency to flock together. Within short order, I found myself surrounded by eight or ten Chinese faces, struggling to keep track of who's who.
As we headed back, one of the Cantonese conversations must've led to "let's have dinner together" which was translated to a somewhat worried "Felix, would you like to join us?", which I hesitantly accepted. I didn't want to stand in the way of anxious, newly-abroad students reconnecting with their culture, but they insisted and seemed more worried about whether I would feel left out. But they needn't have! When we occupied a Northfield kitchen/common room - having in the meantime grown to sixteen people - I felt very much like a part of the group. True, I didn't understand everything that was being said, but there was always a conversation going on in English alongside the Cantonese ones, and occasionally, somebody would even translate or sum up what was going on.
At the end of the night - early enough at half past eleven, but some had only just arrived on Sunday and were, understandably, eager to get to bed - I felt I'd made some new friends. And of course, I'd had a blast - these people were great fun to be with and I do hope I'll manage to sneak into such a meet-up again soon!
Now if you think something along the lines of, "I couldn't do that!", let me assure you that yes, you surely could. I am typically a very introverted, quiet person - I like to keep to myself and would rather spend a night reading a good book than drinking and partying. I also used to be extremely shy to the point of feeling physically unwell at the thought of having to talk to somebody. Somehow, over the last few years, I've managed to get a grip on my shyness, however. I still am rather bashful and dislike the first few moments of meeting strangers, especially if it's me who has to make the first move. But I feel a lot more confident, I know I have many interesting things to bring to the table, and I simply ignore the option of "failure" of which I used to be so afraid. Suddenly, hitting up a conversation with strangers seems entirely natural - more so here on campus during Freshers Week, where everyone is new and most are, to some extent, nervous about the next few days. And really, being social and outgoing, if even just for a casual chat, is so much fun I can't believe I was ever afraid of it!
On the other hand - and this is another glimpse into the past - I'm supremely suited to fitting into a group of strangers from overseas whose language I don't understand. I've been there before: As a child, stepping through the doors of the international school mentioned previously without much more than a few words of English, and again as a teenager, leaving home for Finland to spend an exchange year at highschool there. To me, mingling with people from all over the world feels more natural than being in a closed, ethnically homogeneous group. I feel more commonality with lively young Chinese than stony-faced old Swiss and would much prefer the company of a liberal Colombian musician to that of a right-wing Swiss engineer. When labeling myself "Swiss", I do so to clarify where I come from rather than to define myself ethnically. Thus, being at Sussex among those many people from wildly different cultures feels liberating and welcoming, and without hyperbole I can say that I already feel at home here.
I'll leave you with that for the moment; I may type up something about today's events later, so stay tuned for more Freshers Week adventure tales!
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