Tea With Strangers, a student-organized chapter of an international group by the same name, launched on campus Sunday evening and all of the program’s time slots have already been filled.
The program facilitates group conversations between students on campus who do not know each other. A similar program calledLet’s Get Coffee, which was founded by Benedict Wagstaff ’14 anddid not have any outside affiliations, operated last spring.
Dalia Katan ’15, one of the project’s organizers, saidTea With Strangers started after Wagstaff posted a status on Facebook that discussed his program last year and asked if there was interest in rekindling the group. Katan said that students started organizing in November by setting up the website, marketing and strategy.
All 12 of the original tea times were filled after three hours when people saw the Facebook event, Katan said, adding that a 13th spot was then inserted and quicklyfilled. Fifty people were on the project’s waitlist as of Monday morning, and she saidthe organizers intend to add more times over the next few weeks.
The first tea is on Wednesday.
Wagstaff said he founded Let’s Get Coffee last year because he was preparing to graduate and wanted to get to know more people.
"People kind of stuck to their social groups," Wagstaff said, explaining that it could be difficult to reach out to people you did not know after freshman yearwithout feeling a little out of place. "I realized there was a space for conversation with strangers or, let’s call them other students, you wouldn’t necessarily interact with on a daily basis, and as a result, the program took off."
He said a number of students reached out to him about restarting the project after he graduated and it took some time for him to bring them together and give them his framework for organizing the group.
Wagstaff said over 200 students participated but there were more on the waitlist who they weren’t able to accommodate by the end of the academic year.Each session featured a student host affiliated with the organization and five other students who signed up.
Conversations were not structured, Wagstaff said, and topics varied widely from humorous and lighthearted to more reflective discussions about life challenges.
Wagstaff noted that the program is similar to Princeton Muse, which brings strangers together for "open, meaningful conversation" during a meal or a study break.
"[Tea With Strangers] is kind of easy to come across as a one-time commitment, where I just go and have a nice conversation with some new students or students I might not know at all," he said. "It’s not really a discussion group as much as whatever you want to make of it. It’s something you can do one time or you can do multiple times."
Ankit Shah, who founded Tea With Strangers at the University of Pennsylvania and has overseen its expansion to 18 cities worldwide, said the project began when he wanted to get to know people in his senior year of college outside of his social circle. Over 4,000 people have participated worldwide so far, he said.
"All of the reasons we hadn’t met were totally arbitrary," Shah said.
He expected five to 10 people to respond, but over 250 people actually responded to the website he created, he said, adding that people eventually came to know that he would be at a certain café from 8-11 p.m.
Shah said he had some reservations about expanding Tea With Strangers because some people appeared to be interested in using it for networking or romantic opportunities, but he added that his conversations with Wagstaff led him to believe the organization would be a great fit at the University. Wagstaff had said Let’s Get Coffee was inspired by Tea With Strangers on his website, Shah said.
Tea With Strangers will keep the six-person format at first and will reevaluate after a number of teas have been conducted, saidZhan Okuda-Lim ’15, who is one of the project organizers on campus.
Okuda-Lim said he always hears students talk about theirplans for future internships, fellowships or careers, but noted that students are more interesting than what can be found on their résumés.
"As Princeton students, we’re here because we bring so many unique hopes and fears and dreams and challenges, and what I’m excited about is that this project provides an opportunity for people to take off their masks ... and allow us to talk not as résumés but as people." he said.
The project could prove to be particularly advantageous for incoming freshmen in the fall to meet new people, he said.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article inaccurately described the nature of the conversations. They are group conversations. The 'Prince' regrets the error.