Embrace the art of conversation: advice from a Seattleite

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By mattwu

I hail from the land of rain, grunge band music and steaming gourmet coffee. At least, this is what my friends think when I tell them I am from Seattle, Wash.

Coming across the nation to a school mostly filled with students heralding from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, I would venture to say that I have observed a few drastic differences. These coast cultures manifest in various ways — especially in the people.

I would like to share a Seattleite’s view of Union with you, given that I have been a student for only five weeks. Hopefully, as I have gained invaluable lessons from the East Coast, I can impart with you a few from my rainy Pacific Northwest.

I asked my fellow West Coasters for one word to help me describe our Eastern counterparts. The best summarizing word: intense. While I have not noticed this characteristic in every single person here; indeed, “intense” appropriately describes the general vibe.

However, I do not think that this is simply unique to the East. I believe that all college students across the nation, regardless of geographic location, immerse themselves in almost suffocating schedules that leave little time for personal relationships.

Coming to Union, I expected easy, spontaneous and deep conversations with people. I pictured afternoons or late nights where hours would slip by under the guise of intellectual discussion and profound interpersonal interactions.

But I found that people generally do not have the time to sit and connect. Coming from the Pacific Northwest, this shocked me.

Back in Seattle, coffee shops litter every corner of every street. They are communal homes of underground music and double-and-a-half-shot macchiatos, and it is almost a ritual  to ask an acquaintance to coffee to talk for two or more hours. I, myself, probably engaged in the intimate coffee date at least three times a week when I was home. It is a beautiful thing to listen — truly listen — to someone against the background of pattering rain.

It seems that our college fosters a social mandate of multi-tasking relationships with all other activities. The only vacancies I can find in people’s schedules are over mealtimes or study breaks, which is hardly conducive to the type of conversation needed to build deeper relationships. I find it humorous that people often hide their awkwardness as they take eternities to chew, study or get food as they desperately think about how to further the conversation.

Even worse, the times that students designate to solely concentrate on friends usually are coupled with consumption of alcohol. Now, I believe in a good time like any other freshman living in Davidson. However, when alcohol becomes the only avenue in which someone is able to truly open up (usually in the form of drunken secrets) and get to know friends, then one must really wonder if the art of coffee shop conversation is dead.

Coffee shop conversation equips people with the ability to converse intellectually and engagingly. It forces them to be able to talk candidly and cleverly. In my belief, the coffee shop trains the true personal relator. Casual but deep conversation should be a skill that people not only utilize, but enjoy. In the era of fast-paced, technology-dominated lifestyles, we need more time for this type of activity.

College is about growing and maturing in every aspect. In my opinion, being able to hold a conversation may be the most important. While I find that the fake Starbucks in Wold serves something similar to mud, I do encourage everyone here at Union to sit back, have a cup of coffee and truly listen to someone.

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