Icebreaking internationally

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It’s quite common to hear the term “networking” thrown around college, especially UC Berkeley. Networking seemed to be the undercurrent of a lot of my interactions — whether willingly or unwillingly — as I started to notice some of the tell-tale signs.

With the advent of college and amid the stomach-dropping realization that I was suddenly “on my own,” I had come to the realization that I needed to make a new community. Gone were those that I had grown up with all of my life, their steady and constant presence no longer a crutch I could lean on.

While it was, and still is, pretty scary to make friends, I think that I’ve been quite successful in connecting with “my people.” While I sometimes agonized and over-thought a lot of my interactions to the point that I was almost gaslighting myself, I tried to remember that other first-timers on campus felt similarly as I did.

It shocks quite a few people, once getting into a nice conversational back and forth, when I confess that I’m quite introverted, a seemingly physical shock from the other person. I guess my “fake it ‘til you make it” mantra actually worked.

Back to networking. I would like to say that I’m a relatively moralistic person. I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to reconcile the concept of networking, the essential “you use me, I use you” type of cynical socialization. It seems wrong. It took time, effort and attention for the people I value so heavily in my life, to become just that.

The discussion class was in the depths of the Social Sciences Building for Anthropology 3AC, if anyone was hoping to do a recreation.

Slowly the days, hours, minutes and seconds spent with these people who I “networked” into being my friends have become deeply entrenched in my life and heart. I value them, having connected through menial ways like humor or simply sitting next to them in a discussion class. I mean, that’s how I met my future roommates.

To be quite honest, I don’t really know how it happened. I was sitting next to the last open seat in the class, and my soon-to-be roomie, Noor, walks in, just as it hits 2:10 p.m. She sits in the open seat next to me, and we strike up a conversation in between the dull icebreakers.

Be it intuition or just that special sixth sense international kids have, but the connection is instant once you find it. There’s just something about relating to a set of experiences that are almost identical, just carried out in another continent that builds an immediate tenderness.

Akin to something like a sigh of relief, when you can finally exhale the anxiousness that accompanies meeting new people or when “networking.” Noor had also gone to a British school in Dubai.

After the discussion, Noor leads me into the hallway where she introduces me to my other soon-to-be roommate, Ariel. By some act of bizarre fate, red strings being pulled this way and that, she also says she’s from Hong Kong.

Specifically, she went to Hong Kong International School. I was floored. Pretty convinced that I was the sole “Hong Konger” in Berkeley that semester, this admission made me more than relieved. Maybe it is a small world after all.

I had somehow been able to “network” my way into knowing more international students, and along the course of our friendship, roommates for the next year. Now not all people are like this; connections and enriching relationships are just something that you can pick up at Walgreens, but they are there.

So take your time, be excited and not cringe away from meeting new people, because fate has a funny way of working sometimes, and you may just want to give it a chance.

Rachel Chipner writes the Monday column on being an international college student trying to reidentify with her American heritage.
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