Scheme B: “First Week Social”
Published (gregorian) (ornellember)
Today is 28 B. I am waiting for my brother and grandma to arrive at the train station, and of course, just remembered it’s my deadline to write my second strategy. Luckily, I’d come up with a subject a while ago, which I’ll call First Week Social.
In the French school system, you get put into “classes” which are basically groups of around 30 kids who have the same teachers. We don’t really have pick-and-choose classes like in the Anglo-Saxon system, so basically you spend your entire year with the same 30 kids every day for 8 hours a day. It had never been a problem until I got to the 10th grade (or seconde,) which is the first year of high school in the French system.
That year, I showed up to the first day of class, and for the very first time, I knew no one in my class. Or almost no one. There was one kid I kind of knew; so I sat next to her, and stuck with her. We were also two of the only French kids in that class, and I was the only non-white kid. Very quickly, cliques formed, and before I knew it, I was out of all of them. I spent the year with very few friends, and it was one of my most miserable years — I still had an active social life outside of my class, but for 8 hours every day, I was kind of ostracized.
The next year, the same situation happened, with a brand new batch of kids. However, this time, I had a strategy. Starting in the hallway before entering the classroom, I deliberately started conversations with everyone that happened to enter the 5-yard radius around me. Have you had this teacher before? Wow, cool jacket. Can’t wait for lunch. It was not particularly interesting stuff, and nothing deep, just starting a basic level of acquaintanceship with two thirds of the class, which of course still completely exhausted me.
That one week of effort did pay off. The next week, I was back to my normal level of social activity, which basically equates to being a hermit, but everyone knew me, and they knew me as a nice, fun person, and included me in conversations and plans. I had no problem fitting in that year, or the year after, or almost every time I used this strategy.
My goal was to establish a baseline of acquaintanceship with as many people as I could in the group. I wasn’t really trying to make friends — to use a silly coding analogy, it was a breadth-first approach, not a depth-first approach. The aim was simply not to be a stranger, so that, as cliques formed, I wouldn’t be an outsider.
The time it failed
There was one time I tried to apply this strategy and failed. It was at a summer internship in college. There were something like 6 interns; some were extroverts, some knew each other before, all (except me) were born-and-raised American. We spent most of our days together. I did push myself socially the first week, but it wasn’t enough — I couldn’t quite crack it, and I was still an outsider to the group. I’d attribute it to not really being able to find much in common with anyone — since then, I’ve tried to supplement this strategy with also trying to build one-on-one relationships with individuals by, say, asking them to lunch, but I’ve accepted it’s not infallible.
This was an unexpectedly vulnerable post to write. I think it’s because I don’t remember ever reading something like this before. It kind of makes me sound like an alien who can‘t intuitively figure out human behavior and has to study it — but I’ve had conversations about this topic with friends, and it makes me pretty confident that this is a common experience for humans, so I wanted to share it.