A Love Letter to Forced Socialization

Clarissa Grunwald
May 22, 2016

Wow, am I bad at meeting people. Given the choice between striking up a one-on-one conversation with a stranger and going for a long swim in shark-infested waters, I might just go with the latter. I mean, sharks are an unfairly maligned species, and I’m pretty good at swimming.

People, on the other hand...well.

There’s a kid in my program who likes talking to strangers like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I don’t just mean he isn’t uncomfortable with it, or he’s good at it, or whatever. I mean, I think he probably likes talking to strangers better than he does talking to people he already knows.  Watching him talk to people is like watching penguins dive into near-frozen Antarctic water, or watching a lion eat uncooked gazelle meat—it’s like he’s another species, taking obvious delight in something that, from where I’m standing, looks thoroughly un-enjoyable.

It’s not that I hate people. I don’t. With my friends in college, I’m practically clingy. But college, or at least, American college, forces you to meet people. The people I’m friends with are the people I saw every day freshman year, the people I shared a hall with, played in the orchestra with, took classes with, and wound up, through convenience and proximity, eating lunch with.

I didn’t have to try to meet people. The awkward barriers between me and the other humans in my life broke down slowly, naturally, as we shared music stands and plates of French fries, as we ran into each other walking from our dorm rooms to the showers. And what wasn’t opened by circumstance and proximity was smashed down by my roommate of the time, who, to my relief and gratitude, took up the mantle of “The Extroverted One,” and invited random strangers into our dorm room so that she could gripe about Chemistry or scream at the television with them.

Making friends was, if not effortless, still pretty darn easy. And I was lucky. I was so lucky, because those people I met turned out to be some of the best people I’ve ever known. Somehow, without me trying, some of the smartest, kindest, most talented people I could ever imagine wandered into my life, accidentally, possibly due only to the fact that our lives were playing out in such close physical proximity.  

If I have any regrets from the time I’ve spent abroad so far, the biggest might be that I didn’t try harder to meet people at the beginning of the program, during the orientation days, those few short weeks of forced socialization before we all went on to our own schedules, our own lives. With classes so small and guesthouses so far apart, that coincidence that’s dictated so much of my social life up to this point is in short supply.

Two weekends ago, I got together with some friends and we went to Karneval der Kulturen. It was a lot of fun, if crowded, and I had a nice night. This weekend, I went to an art exhibition with some friends, and later a friend and I went flea market shopping together. There are certainly things to do in Berlin—festivals and museums and concerts—and people, if you know where to find them.

But it’s work, and with all my social awkwardness, sometimes it’s scary work.

I don’t know. I think this’ll probably be good for me in the long run. I’ve certainly been learning a lot of myself since coming here, and top of that list is, wow, I am bad at meeting people.

Dear forced socialization: man, do I miss you now you’re gone. 

Clarissa Grunwald

<p>Writer, composer, musician. American student with a terrible sense of direction set loose on Germany. After years of telling people that I love to travel, this is my first time actually leaving the country.</p>

Destination:
Term:
2016 Spring
Home university:
Franklin & Marshall College
Major:
English
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