The independent news organization of Duke University

Embrace the awkardness


When DSG President Tara Bansal said during convocation to "never let yourself be comfortable," members of the Class of 2020 changed seats, traversing the various benches in the Duke Chapel, and I didn't budge. I had lost the person I had come to convocation with and was sitting with a new group of people.

But even watching everyone move around, I was reminded of Tara's advice in a form that made the most sense to me: embrace the awkwardness. And as I've learned, discomfort isn't always trying out a new experience, or talking to a new person. It's also being alone, not knowing what to do, almost seething with jealousy as I see other people seemingly getting along with others effortlessly.

During O-Week, awkwardness was walking by myself in a mob of 1,700, or unsuccessfully trying to socialize with people I just met, forcing the same conversations over and over again. Now as classes have started, it feels like not knowing what to do at night or not knowing who to talk to in between classes or during meals. Even now, as I write in my room, I get the nagging sense that if I'm not outside meeting new people, am I missing out on something new? Does spending too much time in my room take away from the experience of taking in the world? Is taking walks by myself on the quad okay? If I hear people talking about going to Shooters when I'm not interested, is it okay if I wrinkle my nose and walk away? Is it within the lines of college life if I say that I spent my free afternoon nerding out to a math problem with someone in Lilly?

I was pressured into attending an off-campus party during O-Week. I walked out 5 minutes after I stepped in and spent the next 30 minutes ranting about how horrible it was. A few days later, I was invited to a small dorm party with 15 people crammed into a Randolph single playing a game I had never heard of. This week, I walked into Marketplace with the full intention of eating alone. Saturday night, I spent the night doing math homework instead of going out. It always felt awkward.

Within my first few weeks, I've already gotten the impression that Duke is designed for extroverts to succeed. Maybe that's by nature of the people we choose to make the decisions. Most people who ran for House Council or DSG are naturally extroverted, and the outwardness of the speeches and campaigns almost always correlated with the number of votes.

For the longest time, I didn't think any of this would have bothered me. I had always imagined that the best part of college would be constantly surrounding myself with interesting people, but instead, I've enjoyed the immense control over deciding when and where I want to be around people. Besides, isn’t starting a conversation with someone new outside of O-Week just awkward?

Yes, but it's worth it, at least according to an experiment done by behavioral scientists Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder. In exchange for a $5 Starbucks gift card, participants in Chicago were asked to start a brief conversation with the person sitting next to them in the subway or bus as they commuted to work. The results were surprising. People who started a conversation with the stranger were happier. Apparently the forced interaction and the forced smiling has its benefits, regardless if you're introverted or extroverted, regardless of how awkward it is.

Besides, as these horrible moments of "not belonging" persisted, things typically got better. At the off-campus party, I snuck out with another girl and tried out the New York Times' "36 questions that lead to love," complete with staring into her eyes for four straight minutes. Our wedding is next week. I was feeling drained after attending the mega-party, and another girl coming from the same event entered the Bell Tower common room and struck up a conversation regarding similar exhaustion. She proceeded to share her life story that's as inspiring as I had expected people might be at Duke. At Marketplace the next day, a girl from my floor sat at my table for a just few minutes, talked about how she hasn’t gotten to know anyone terribly well and had listened to the same essay about the 36 questions the night before, just as I had, in a completely different situation.

Even when things didn’t get better, I realized it was okay. Because maybe the price for interesting conversations is to occasionally be the awkward Asian girl who isn't talking to anyone. Awkwardness may not just be a side effect, but a requirement. And at the end of the day, that discomfort is a small price to pay.

Amy Fan is a Trinity freshman. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Amy Fan | fangirling

Amy Fan is a Trinity senior. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Thursdays.


Share and discuss “Embrace the awkardness” on social media.