Thursday evening I came home to emails from my palaeontology professor and the geology department, offering me an alternative place in a different excursion two days later. I eagerly accepted, counting myself lucky that for once, a problem had taken care of itself before I’d even had a chance to do anything about it.
The excursion was surprisingly pleasant – relatively mild emperatures and a bit of sun in the afternoon, and it reminded me of how much I’d loved doing “field work” once upon a time. The decision to cancel a week ago had been right, though, because it was a physically demanding day and I wouldn’t have made it through the programme in the state I was in.
A few of my fellow students started saying hello to me in classes and striking up short conversations. I’m actually grateful, because most appear to be decent people and it would be nice just to be able to connect a little. I’m not expecting to make lifelong friends there, but having people you could ask about the maths homework or physics deadline and stuff like this would make my uni life easier. And I guess it would also be pleasant to just have someone to talk to once in a while.
I still don’t manage making the first step and starting a conversation myself, but when people say hello, I try being as open as I possibly can and to not appear arrogant or uninterested. For example, in one of my geology classes we were supposed to work in small groups, but since I keep to myself mostly, I had no “partner”. While I was still trying to figure out how to solve that problem, my neighbour said, “Why don’t you come closer? I’m not going to bite you.” I didn’t answer, but sat down next to him with a facial expression somewhere between apologetic smile and awkward grimace. The rest of the class went ok, I actually managed…. well, not an animated conversation, but I would talk a little to the people around me.
The most awkward experience so far was in a physics lecture, which we future geoscientists attend together with students pursuing degrees in medicine, pharmacy, geodesy, molecular biomedicine or biology. I was sitting next to this teenaged boy just fresh out of school and had gotten lost in thought when suddenly he spoke to me, “What do you study?” Startled, I had to ask him to repeat his question, then said, “Geosciences… [trying really hard here to untilize some of the stuff I learned in therapy and not come across as completely aloof] …and you? What do you study?” – “Geodesy.” – “Oh…” I nodded, tried a smile, but my conversational skills had already been exhausted and foolish replies like, “Nice!” or, “That’s cool!” got stuck in my throat before I could utter them. His one-word-answer didn’t really help either. After staring in his general direction for another two seconds, I realized he wasn’t going to continue the smalltalk and that his conversational skills most likely were not any better than mine, so I slowly turned back to my college pad.
And then there are the times when on the outside, everything goes well, but on the inside I suddenly start deconstructing the situation. Like this other physics lecture where a girl I’d never seen before offered me a chewing gum. I smiled, “No, thank you!” For about a minute I was completely fine and even thought by myself, “Well, that was kind of her.” And suddenly, the doubts kicked in: “Maybe she offered you a chewing gum because you have really bad breath?” (My boyfriend confirmed I do not have bad breath, so the girl must have wanted to be friendly.)
The headline paraphrases a quote from one of my favourite books and films, Oscar and Lucinda, and is a very apt description of how I feel on most days. There actually is a story connected to it which I might tell another day.