I remember my first day of the humanities core as a first-year this fall. As I entered the classroom, a small room on the first floor of North, I thought of how the stark white walls and tall windows lent themselves perfectly to my class, Readings in World Literature. Since the course is dedicated to stories, the plainness of the room would allow these tales to unfold without distracting from them.
My professor was Gary Tubb, a man who spoke sagely about each book we read. On that first day he began his lecture in a very suitable way: by talking about introductions. We went around the room and answered generic questions: What’s your name? Where are you from? He used this exercise to segue into his main point—how the first few sentences of anything that is read or spoken act like an introduction. Professor Tubb told the class to treat the introduction to a text as if it were a human, to try to understand why it talks to us the way it does and what it lets us know about itself. He told us to focus on the impact that each work has on the reader. In the past, I had never thought of engaging with a piece of unchanging text in this way. Yet the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Introductions act as a bridge from the unknown to the known. They enable us to understand things that we didn’t know existed. For first-years, the first quarter at UChicago is dominated by introductions—to people, places, and experiences. These introductions, I’m learning, remain important through our four years on campus. The same things my Hum professor told my class to focus on when approaching a literary work should be applied when introducing yourself to the unfamiliar.
Arguably, the most influential introductions are the first words exchanged between people; just like those of a book, they are often what leave the longest lasting impact. Personally, some of the best introductions I’ve had over my first quarter here have been spontaneous—realizing I was in the wrong lab section and that the girl sitting next to me was in the same boat, or running into someone in the hallway of Max Palevsky.
Now, during eighth week, as people settle into their friend groups, it becomes easy to forget about the first, “Where are you from?” that was exchanged. Even with close friends, it is important to think back to those initial interactions and think about how they worked to define a relationship. I did this a few nights ago with some of my closest friends over dinner in Baker. Each of us recounted the first impression we had of one another. Some exchanges were quite funny: “You were the most California dude I ever met,” “Why? Because I was wearing a California sweatshirt?” Others were more awkward: “I forgot your name for the first three days after we met.” What all these first introductions had in common was their ability to tie together people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. What I reaped from these funny, awkward introductions is:
When you meet a new person, treat them as if they are a Steinbeck novel. They, too, are a composition of stories waiting to be retold, that in turn have much to do with yourself. Knowing their story allows you to become a part of it.
Not all introductions are interpersonal ones. Sometimes, we shake hands with our surroundings or experiences. Now that the oak-lined paths on the quad have become old scenery, take time to appreciate what it was like before you stepped foot on campus. Comparing your initial impression to how you feel about campus now allows you to understand how far you’ve come during your time here. Your introduction to campus serves as a bench point for your growth; the trees stay the same as you evolve. Appreciating your introduction to campus allows you to appreciate how far you’ve come.
When you discover a new place, perhaps a new neighborhood like Old Town or Wicker Park, or a part of campus that you’ve never seen, even if it is just a small archway, remember how important introductions are. What do the people who amble up the slate grey sidewalks of Old Town reveal about the personality of the place? When experiencing novelty, focus on the impact that it has on you, the reader.
With time, the unfamiliar slowly fades into the familiar. Although beneficial in its own right, the familiar can close you off to opportunities and people that could eventually change your perspective. With a well-established friend group, it becomes easier to ignore strangers. A comfortable routine becomes difficult to break. My advice is to seek out novelty. To fracture the cyclical routine we often fall into. Start a conversation with someone while waiting in line at the Cathey pasta bar. Find a new place to study, or get off at a new stop on the Red Line. Try new foods or participate in campus events that include names of things you’ve never heard of. This will enable you to experience new things that may change your values or way of thinking—the most worthwhile aspect of college life. The only thing keeping you from this is an introduction that could be as simple as “hello.”
Maya Ordonez is a first-year in the College.