Small Talk

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

|Author: Julie|

I think all of us would like to be sleeping right now. I’m referring both to the GCIL students in T3 listening to me read my blog post aloud early on Monday morning and those of us sitting here in the 300-level common room at 1:30am on Sunday night. (Monday won’t start until I finish writing, go to bed, and wake up the next morning OR the sun rises. Whichever comes first.)

Instead, Tessa’s here because she can’t sleep and I’m here because I can sleep, but probably shouldn’t quite yet.

I wish I had a funny or interesting story for you, but the truth is that my group and I have been working on our first GCIL and organization reports for most of the past week. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of my time in a beige plastic chair on the second floor, flicking ants off of my laptop as I try to explain how a restaurant and gift shop will change the lives of India’s Halakki tribe. That beige plastic chair and too-high tabletop have become “my spot” these past few days, to the extent that Kevin asked me this afternoon whether I had moved at all since he saw me there the night before.

It’s not just my spot, of course. Sometimes, others join me in their own beige plastic chairs. Sometimes it’s my group recording a video for our mentors. Sometimes it’s Ross telling me to watch the Superbowl Halftime Show, and sometimes it’s Eric asking me if I want one of Sandra’s spicy chicken wings.

Sometimes we all chat and that’s unusual for me because I’ve never really been good at small talk. I once had a boss who would ask me how my weekend was when I walked into the office at 8:30am on Mondays. At 8:00am that same morning, I would be on the bus racking my brain for interesting stories so that I wouldn’t answer her question with yet another “Good. It was nice to get some sun this weekend.”

But since joining GCIL, I’ve come to really appreciate the value of questions like “how was your weekend?” and “how are you doing today?” Hannah talked last week about how she has gotten to know the three men behind UTC’s front desk, the ones who rarely speak or smile, by regularly asking them how they are. I think the same has been true for me with every one on GCIL. Cameron and I ended up talking about how her mom grew up in Hawaii the other night because I’d asked about her day. Gavin and I were the last ones chatting in the canteen the same day because the same question I’d asked Cameron had led to a conversation about NSLI-Y a study abroad program we’d both done at different times.

Eight weeks into GCIL, those beige plastic chairs have helped me learn something that many of you probably already knew: that innocuous questions can be more than the workplace small talk you prepare for on your morning commute, or the opener for an interview on a rural site visit. They can be a means to learn more about the people you’re with and the country you’re currently sharing.

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