Northwestern has a program called “Dinner with 12 Strangers” during which an alumni hosts a dinner and students sign up to converse and eat with 11 of their peers, the only known commonality linking them all being the school that they attended.
Last night was not what I expected it to be.
I expected awkward conversation and long silences and the clinking of fork tines and the sound of chewing as everyone looked down at their plates.
Instead, I enjoyed a beautiful sunset in a fancy country club and a three course meal and many connections made over a dining table.
I only knew one person prior to the event, but managed to find a very random mutual friend with another student. I talked about working in the food industry with another and heard the story of a college freshman who was already married. I met two people who lived in my building who I hadn’t ever met before, and discovered
The alumni who hosted the dinner told us about her 50th marriage anniversary and her 50th year college reunion, describing how the university had changed drastically since her time there.
We were from everywhere across the world, as close as the next neighborhood over and as far as Hong Kong.
What did I take away from this?
When I start to settle into a place (college, in this case), I tend to confine myself and fall into a rut. Wake up, go to class, do work, eat in a dining hall. Go to parties on the weekend and sleep late. I’ll end up spending my time with people who are similar to me, because I find comfort in similarity and I enjoy routine.
But once in a while, I have to let myself drift off and explore, and I have to keep an open-mind – about everything. I have to be willing to listen to others’ stories and be willing to tell my own.
It’s important to consider something that seems stationary (the state of the university I attend) from a historical perspective, to not accept it as it is at this very second and imagine it being the same in the past and expecting it to stay the same in the future.
I need to have long, sit-down meals complete with a fancy tablecloths and multiple courses, every once in a while. Everyone needs that.
To any student from my university, I encourage you to read more about this Dinner with 12 Strangers and sign up. To settle for similarity is both a blessing and a curse.
If you don’t have a program like this, make a suggestion, and it may very well become a reality.