With thousands of students at Stanford and hundreds of classes to choose from, it is likely that there will come a time when you will not know a single person in a class you’re enrolled in. Of course it’s beyond foolish to only take courses you know your friends or friendly acquaintances are taking. But the thought can definitely cross your mind when it’s the first day of the quarter, you’ve been handed various intimidating syllabi throughout the day, and the additional feeling of drowning in a swarm of strangers becomes a bit too real. While there are those ultra-connected and very sociable people on the other side of the spectrum, for many of us, the common occurrence of not knowing anyone in a class can often lead to an uncomfortable social situation.
Say you walk into the lecture room, still unsure if you’re even in the correct building. You are either quite early or see no one familiar, so you take an empty seat in the middle-ish row. (Obviously because if you’re the first one to sit in the front, you’ll seem to eager. And if you head straight to the back … I mean, you don’t want to seem like a slacker straight off the bat.) As more unfamiliar faces file in, you can’t help but think that everyone is intentionally sitting in at least a two-seat radius away from you. You try to keep your cool — pretending to mindlessly flip through your blank planner or scroll through your overly-checked Instagram feed. You even reposition your sticker-covered Hydroflask and beat-up backpack to make sure people know that the seats aren’t taken. But by the time the professor switches on his mic, your fate is sealed as there are still two empty seats on either side of you. And of course, this is the class where you’re asked to form groups and introduce yourself. Do you awkwardly pick up your stuff and side-shuffle down the ridiculously narrow row to sit next to the person four seats to your left? Or do you lean towards the group in front of you in an attempt to join their conversation? As you try hard to mask the growing feeling of self-consciousness, the next step of seamlessly inserting yourself into a group of people who already seem to know each other can be tough too.
Mind you, this overanalyzed social situation is all occurring within the very first 30 minutes of class. By the time you’ve gotten the personal introductions out of the way, you’ve breathed your sigh of relief, and perhaps you are reassuring yourself that you will get to know more people soon. However, that spark of optimistic hope is quickly extinguished when the professor announces that groups for the class project must be formed by the next class. Now that your grade is on the line, you feel entitled to panic just a little bit as it is no longer just social discomfort. As people begin to form clumps, you frantically scan the room looking for a fellow lost soul, and like it’s fate, you do indeed make eye-contact with your equally-as-frantic-looking group members to be.
Although this is quite the exaggerated narrative arc of what it feels like to not know anyone in a class you are taking, it can often feel this dramatic in the moment. But if you’re not interested in playing the role of Lost/Confused Student #1 in this storyline, do the simple thing that I wish people, including myself, did more often. The moment you walk into that lecture hall, take the initiative to sit next to someone else or strike up a random conversation before personal introductions are prescribed by the professor. Because probably more often than not, they’re worried about playing Lost/Confused Student #2 in the narrative.
Contact Serena Soh at sjsoh ‘at’ stanford.edu.