I arrived at Cornell in August for my freshman year of college feeling incredibly excited — I had spent the last few months thinking about all of the interesting people I would meet and all the things I would learn from my peers from around the world. Sure, nothing is ever as perfect as you imagine, but since August I have been shocked by the utter lack of any social skills in the freshman class.
For one thing, no one speaks — not in classes, not while walking around campus and not in the dining hall. A shocking amount of the class came in already knowing someone from home and clinging to that person, refusing to broaden their horizons, despite having access to a freshman class of over 4,000. Others stuck with a pre-arranged group: their sports team, their pre-orientation group from different activities or the kids they met in their dorm hall. This is all reasonable; it makes sense to stick together with the people you know. However, I did not think that after finding these few people, the newly arrived students would decide those were the only people they would ever speak to again. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. Getting people to talk in classes is excruciatingly difficult, and trying to actually make a friend is even harder.
Before college, I was always an introverted person, the sort who made friends when other people made the effort to get to know me. However, I decided early on that in college, I was going to be more outgoing. I wanted to make friends, and I knew that this took putting in some effort. I definitely had not realized how much effort it would entail.
For instance, my attempt at being social on the first day of classes was a complete flop. I was feeling bold, so I turned to the kid next to me in an elective class and said hello. He replied, if somewhat begrudgingly, so I went on to ask his major, as one often does.
“Astrophysics,” he replied flatly.
I decided to try and lighten our exchange with a joke. “Well that’s easy,” I laughed.
In response, my peer stared at me blankly and said, completely seriously, “No. Why would astrophysics be easy?”
We have not spoken since — despite over two months of sitting next to each other in this class.
Or take, for instance, a small class where almost every student happened to be a part of a single Cornell sports team. These athletes would not speak to anyone else in the class, and I was left sitting awkwardly during small group discussions. Finally, I began talking to the kid next to me, and we had an actual conversation. I was so pleased! Finally, I decided, I had met someone who was mature, someone who wanted to make friends and branch out. We continued talking, and I discovered that he was not a freshman as I had assumed, but a third year PhD student who had decided on a whim to take an introductory language course. No wonder he was mature — he was seven years older than me.
After weeks of these sort of interactions — meeting kind upperclassmen and older students and completely failing to make any sort of connection with any freshmen outside of my hall — I was feeling about ready to give up. I decided on a last ditch attempt to talk to a girl from an extracurricular who seemed nice. I caught up with her as we left our meeting and jumped into conversation. I introduced myself and then decided to broach the subject with her.
“I think it’s funny,” I admitted, “that people don’t seem to be talking to each other — even in extracurriculars. At our meeting, no one spoke to each other except when they had to.”
In response, the girl shrugged and said, “Honestly, I really don’t like talking to people. I’m glad they’re not.”
And with that, she sped up and walked past me. I was left literally shocked speechless, and watched her walk away.
But perhaps I am also part of the problem. After all these tries, I decided it was pointless to continue attempting to befriend other freshmen. Now, I only talk to the people I know. I eat with my friends from my hall, hang out in class with a girl introduced to me by a girl I knew from home and keep to myself in classes where I do not know anyone. I wish this were not the case, I wish that I had met tons of interesting people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world and I wish that I had gotten to know at least some of the other people in my classes. But alas, the freshman class does not seem to possess the social skills for these sorts of interactions. Perhaps I will simply have to wait for the second semester.
Hater Tuesday is an authorless column that runs on Tuesdays and centers around critiquing media or culture.