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DISPATCH | Talking to strangers

<h5>Crosswalk in Vienna</h5>
<h6>Kerrie Liang / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Crosswalk in Vienna
Kerrie Liang / The Daily Princetonian

Dispatches at The Prospect are brief reflections from our writers that focus on their experiences during the summer break. This piece is part of the Dispatch summer 2022 series. 

June started off with thumping music and strobe lights. My second night in Barcelona was spent screaming along to remixed “Mamma Mia” songs with two girls I had met at the student residence the day before. As we emerged from the crowds of tourists in the club, glowing in our and others’ sweat and with our stomachs rumbling, we were tasked with the toughest challenge of all: finding food at 3 a.m. We probably spent over two hours asking anyone — from stone-faced security guards to drunkards barely holding themselves together — whether they knew a place to eat before finally stumbling upon a McDonald’s. After waiting another 30 minutes for food, we headed back to the beach to watch the sunrise.

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Laying on the sand, we talked about what we were looking forward to this summer. One girl was from Atlanta, Georgia and studied finance. I learned that she had just broken up with her long-term boyfriend and was ready to live it up in Barcelona before going into her senior year. The other girl was from Mexico and had just graduated from university. She was looking forward to getting a tattoo even though her parents disapproved. I’ve never been one to talk to strangers, but I guess sharing chicken nuggets after six hours of protecting each other through inebriated encounters really brings people together. And as the sun emerged from the horizon and the sky came to life, I had a feeling that this summer would be one to remember.

July found me stuck on Turó del Carmel — the hill home to Antoni Gaudí’s “Park Güell” — with a group of Irish men who referred to themselves as “lads.” I learned that they were in Barcelona for vacation and had not gone to bed earlier than 6 a.m. the entire week. As we began our journey down the hill, I also learned that one of them had gotten his sister tickets to Olivia Rodrigo’s show for her birthday — he definitely deserves a “Brother of the Year” award for that.

However, the biggest surprise came halfway through our descent, when the group split into two. I watched one guy open his phone to call his friend... on Snapchat. At first, I laughed it off — maybe this was the only way they could contact each other without a Spanish phone plan — but when the same guy used Snap Maps to check for directions, I realized this was not a one-time thing. As I soon learned, instead of Messenger or Google Maps, many Irish people use Snapchat — an app that I had thought everyone retired from by high school graduation — for everything.

My newfound interest in speaking to random people on the street was not limited to Spain. In Vienna, I listened to a graduate student explain that yes, it was absolutely essential for him and his buddies to drink 23 beers, one in each district, within 24 hours, and no, it certainly was not strange that they had started this challenge at 10 a.m. in the morning. In fact, he insisted that any reasonable person would have started at 8 a.m. In Paris, I met a restaurant owner who was really excited that I also spoke Chinese and sent me off with a postcard wishing me safe travels home.

This summer, I was the most extroverted I have ever been. For my entire life, I have lived by the saying, “Don’t speak unless spoken to.” But the past two months of talking to strangers have allowed me to learn, empathize, and connect with others in a way that I would never have experienced otherwise. These people come from all over the world. I have never met them before and will never meet them again. Yet, during these conversations, our lives intersect — miraculously and fleetingly — and are imprinted on each others’ forever.

Kerrie Liang is an Assistant Editor for The Prospect and Podcasts at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at kerrie.liang@princeton.edu, or on Instagram at @kerrie.liang.

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