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Social Studies

A School Outside Boston

By Courtesy of Shanivi Srikonda
By Yona T. Sperling-Milner
Yona T. Sperling-Milner is a first-year in Hurlbut Hall. Since returning from break she has not spoken to any fellow students, but she knows what friendship is like from books and movies.

Freshmen, a new semester is upon us, and the housing process is just around the corner. Which is to say: If you don’t have friends yet, get scared. Also, you’re 3.5 short years from graduation, and there’s a zero percent chance you’ll make friends post-college, if my parents are any indication. Personally, I’m good at making friends (just ask the turkeys outside Barker Center and my Securitas guard), and we have a lot of fun hanging out together (eating dried grains and letting people into the dorms), but maybe you are not as lucky. That’s okay. Here is some advice to help you out.

Suppose it’s breakfast time. When you enter Annenberg, select foods that convey your friendliness and approachable personality. If you are a girl, select three cucumber slices, so that people will see how skinny you are. If you are a boy, take four glasses of chocolate milk so people know you are confident in your masculinity. Watermelon is political; avoid.

Next, maneuver to a table while texting on your phone, reminding onlookers you’re in high demand and they’d be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Wave across the dining hall; no one can tell there’s no one there. Sit down. Do not grip the armrests of the chair; this shows weakness. Look around your table. These 18-year-old dweebs are not just tomorrow’s LinkedIn connections — they are also this morning’s targets.

Now it’s time for small talk. Perhaps you can inquire into the medications they take with breakfast, or ask about their mother’s dating life post-divorce. Maybe point out that their rosacea is slightly asymmetrical, the sign of a more extensive facial rash?

People often ask you stuff too, so prepare your responses (practice in front of a mirror if you have to). At first, it might seem intimidating, but with my help responding to these common questions, you’ll quickly emerge victorious from 92 percent of first-year conversations.

What’s your name?

This is a softball, so don’t blow it. Remember, a strong Harvard name will project confidence, career readiness, and that “my-affirmative-action-was-Daddy-donating-a-building” flair. Try “Olivia Pennypacker,” or “John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and I row crew.” Don’t forget nonverbal cues: Cough, but a small cough, the kind of cough that says, “I have so many friends and have been to so many parties that of course I have Covid-19 but also don’t worry it’s been five days so I am past maximal viral load.”

Where are you from?

Acceptable answers: Cambridge (either), the moon, the Upper East Side.

Unacceptable answers: a public high school, anywhere in France, the Upper West Side.

How’s your second semester going?

The key to acing this question is to realize that not liking things makes you a failure, while being overly enthusiastic looks desperate and nerdy. Try to establish connections; this is most likely not the time to bring up your recent diagnosis with congenital salmonella. You will want to detail things that have happened to you, establishing a foundation of trust based on unique and highly-interesting experiences. Example: “I had a good break, it’s really cold here. Haha.”

What are you studying?

You are studying their facial rash.

What classes are you taking?

This question is particularly insidious. Dodge, dodge, dodge. A winning strategy is to list off the classes your conversation partner is taking, instead. (Have this information memorized — the Canvas “People” tab exists for a reason.)

This response is particularly savvy because it’ll throw your new friend entirely off guard. They will look around nervously, wondering how you collected that information. Perhaps your trick will even prompt a nervous laugh, which is so close to an amused laugh. Game over; you win. Blockmates??

Yona T. Sperling-Milner is a first-year in Hurlbut Hall. Since returning from break she has not spoken to any fellow students, but she knows what friendship is like from books and movies. Her column “A School Outside Boston” runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays.

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