17 Mar Friendships, Dates, and Grad School
In Lasisi’s voice, I want to rant about making friends as an international student in grad school.
It never occurred to me that making friends would be a struggle until I moved to America. If you ask a couple of my friends or colleagues what my personality type is, I doubt there would be a unanimous agreement. While some will say I am introverted, others will choose the other end of the gamut. I like to say I am different things to different people depending on my life journey. However, I lean toward ambivalence. Despite having a multitude of friends in a previous life of mine, I find that like most adults, the older you get, the fewer people remain in your circle,- this I am gradually making peace with.
I initially rarely warm up to people at first sight. It mostly starts with a period of observation before being drawn toward a person or group of people. I found myself adopting that approach in grad school except that here, there are many factors that are not in my favour.
First is the almighty accent. I am surrounded by many international students like me who all speak with diverse accents. For the first term, we constantly had to ask one another to repeat ourselves. To avoid that, one gets tempted to avoid the hassle and keep to oneself.
Secondly, Americans are more independent and less inclined to socialize than I am used to. Augustus spoke all about it on his YouTube channel but it’s better experienced than explained. Initially, I felt bothered by how some people would ignore me even after multiple meetings, but over time, I have become more accustomed to it. That you sat with someone or were on a project team with them doesn’t mean that you are friends. This does not apply to international students as they are more conversational and open to small talk.
I then turned to the church. The church I worship is intergenerational and that is putting it very mildly. The friends I have made from church are primarily seniors who are mostly retired and in their 70s and 80s. They love to talk but I hardly find a common ground with them. It’s either they are telling you about a daffodil that began to bloom in their garden or a games night they attended earlier in the week and of course the weather! Although their stories are pleasant, it is not something I am honestly interested in, so I smile politely and nod a bit too vigorously to mask my boredom.
The thing about making friends in grad school is that it’s like shopping for a date. People suggest going out more, trying the coffee shop, the library, and even the gym. I have tried the gym.
In January, I registered for a group fitness class which I managed to drag myself to a few times. After classes, I attempted to make small talk with people. I ask what programs they are studying and what their research is about. I find that it makes for a good opening line which can further lead to more talks in the future.
They say the greatest love stories happen instantaneously so do great friendships. Consequently, I have stopped actively searching for connections. I’ve decided to continue making small talk with people casually, without expecting too much in return, in the hope of someday meeting people whose interests align with mine.
Someone once asked me if I would consider Corvallis to be my home, and without hesitation, I answered in the negative. Home is among many things where I connect with people the most. It’s still the first year- meaning a lot can change in four years but as of today, Corvallis is a chapter in my book just like Eket, Benin, and Port Harcourt are. I hope to come back to this in a few years to view how much things have changed- or remained the same.
PS: I have been thinking about this quote: Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection. Keep working on your goal even when you don’t see any appreciable improvement. One day, you will look back and be amazed at how far you have come.
By the way, grad school makes you a philosopher. Isn’t it why it’s called Doctor of Philosophy?
P.S.S: I have more to say on this topic, but I’ll stop here for now since this has already ballooned to 750 words.