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On wholesome stranger interactions

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College can often be a stressful place. With challenging classes to juggle alongside social obligations and extracurricular activities, it can consume us. I have found that positive interactions with others often mitigates this stress. In addition to seeing friends and familiar faces, many times the most unexpected interactions can make us happier. Here are a few of my own wholesome instances.

On the first day of classes, I was a bigger wreck than Kim Kardashian when she lost her diamond earrings in the ocean. I left my dorm about 10 minutes before my first class started, as my TreeMaps estimated a five-minute journey. What I didn’t realize was that a new freshman who had never biked around campus might have no idea where to go, even with the help of a map. Since my handlebars were too loose, I often lost my balance, falling off my bike several times in the process. It didn’t help that my helmet was too large and fell onto my eyes with each bump in the road I encountered.

Twenty minutes later, I still had no idea where I was, even after biking around in circles around Main Quad. “You have arrived at your destination,” my phone repeated. But I found myself in the middle of a complex of beautiful buildings I had no idea about. Frustrated, I reached out to a student I saw standing by some bikes. “Excuse me, could you help me find this building?” I asked, becoming anxious that I was already ten minutes late to my first class. Surprisingly, she offered to lead me there. Biking behind her with the sweet, soft air surrounding my face and the warm sun shining on my head, I felt grateful. When we arrived, she pointed towards the building where my first class took place. I thanked her for her help, and emphasized my appreciation. The campus was like a maze at first, and without her, I might’ve been lost for another  20 minutes who knows?

But the wholesome stranger interactions didn’t stop after my first day of school. A few weeks later, as I biked back to my dorm from class, I noticed a little signboard with lots of big red and black balloons strung to the top that read, “Event this way.” I stopped my bike at the intersection and saw a woman in professional attire sitting near the signboard. “Do you know what event this is for?” I inquired, curious what kind of event could take place in the engineering quad on Friday night. “No, sorry, I don’t.” “Oh, no problem. Are you a professor?” “No, I’m just waiting for a friend.” After a few minutes of small talk, our conversation morphed into a discussion of my experience as a new freshman at Stanford. The woman asked me how I was adjusting, making friends, liking and disliking classes. I told her about how my classes were challenging, yet also intriguing, and that sometimes I felt somewhat stressed.

Even though I had just met her, she seemed to genuinely care about my well-being. She also recommended that I explore the Cantor Museum, where she worked last year, if I ever wanted to take a break, reduce stress or try something new. With a reassuring tone, she gave me this final piece of advice: “Make the most of your time here! Make lots of friends, work hard and have fun.” We both ended the conversation by wishing each other luck, and I felt a renewed sense of belonging after speaking with her. Her words inspired me to continue even when it gets tough and to smile even when I have too many p-sets.

Later that week, I headed to Coupa Cafe to work. Most of the tables were full, but I found an empty chair next to a woman working on her laptop. I asked if I could sit at her table, and she replied with an enthusiastic affirmation. She told me that she was taking some Stanford courses in artificial intelligence and machine learning to supplement her job at a tech company, and asked what year I was. I told her I was an undergraduate, and she was immediately impressed. She congratulated me and stated something along the lines of “You must be really talented!” Feeling uncertain of myself and somewhat discouraged after a difficult midterm, I muttered, “I don’t know.”

She could sense my discomfort and started encouraging me. “Hey, keep your head up! You got this!” She explained how she started off at a low point in her career, but with careful determination and hard work, she rose through the ranks to achieve an important role. She encouraged me not to give up. Her warm smile and bright disposition comforted me, and I was thankful for her positivity. She emboldened me with a new determination to finish my p-set that I may not have had without a few words of encouragement.

I’m always grateful for these random yet wholesome stranger interactions. The next time you meet someone new, I encourage you to go beyond making small talk with them, and go a little bit deeper. Don’t just say “I’m good” when they ask how you’re doing. I recommend being honest, open and vulnerable. It can lead to some really fulfilling conversations. Also, if you find yourself in a situation where you can lend a helping hand, do so! If you spot another freshman wandering around the quad with a confused face, her helmet slipping onto her face and bike wobbling like a baby who’s just learning how to walk, ask her if she needs any help.

 

Contact Vilina Mehta at vmehta19 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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