It was a Monday. The second day of the semester– the first full-fledged in-person semester in two years. 5 pm is a very frustrating time to return home from Mohakhali's busy streets. With the road packed as tight as a matchbox, transportation is either impossible to find or, painfully expensive. I was sitting in a corner of my university’s cafeteria hoping to wait out the hustle and bustle and go home in peace.
After spending the last two years in a classroom of one, the overwhelming crowds of students coming in and out of the cafeteria was a sight I was no longer used to. Suddenly, a familiar face snapped me back into reality. It was someone I had never met before in person, but encountered time and time again during virtual classes, in random English electives and in other courses like geography of all things. A few excited hellos and this person I had physically met for the first time offered me a car ride home, even though mine was even farther away than their own.
This person was someone I had never met in real life before, someone with whom I only shared a proper conversation for the first time that day inside their car as we waited out the cumbersome Dhaka traffic. And yet, we laughed at our similar experiences with scary teachers and gushed over the ones who inspired us. We shared a moment of mutual solace in our similar ups and downs in life and even gasped at some things the other had done that struck us as absurd.
This story is not about the car ride. In fact, it has little to do with the car ride, though that is where it starts. That is because the car ride holds significance that goes far beyond the seven-and-a-half kilometres it covered. In the past two years of glaring screens and virtual classrooms, something more subtle and valuable has, I feel, been lost for many of us beyond just the comfort of interactive classes - the infinite happenstances and acquaintances that add to our total experience as university students.
The car ride was the beginning of a few sporadic carpool sessions which were all contained within the chassis of that one car. Yet, they were as meaningful to me as some of my longest-running friendships. That is not to say that I would choose my car ride friend over my closest friend from a burning building (let’s hope I never face that dilemma), but that there was a meaning to those chats.
It is very easy to be normalised in one’s own bubble and its 5-kilometre radius of social connections. To only see a world where you alone are at the centre. It is only when you make yourself step out and experience other ways of thinking can you truly grow and shape yourself as a complete human being. Things I was used to saying off-hand I had to break down and explain so that it was comprehensible to another person. This made me rethink and reconsider ways I frame my own thought processes in a way simply talking to my familiar crowd of friends could have never accomplished. Hearing my carpool friend’s side of things also opened my eyes to how similar experiences can result in polar opposite takeaways as well.
The ways we think and feel have a multiplicity of possibilities and being confined to just a few limits us as individuals. Only when we open ourselves up to exploring the world beyond what is familiar to us in terms of social circles, backgrounds, abilities, etc., can we explore who we really are as proper autonomous people. In this regard, expanding our social capital and having conversations with others who may challenge us or even add to our existing understanding and position, is one of the fastest routes one can take to shift their pre-programmed paradigms and grow.
Spontaneous conversations while sipping tea in between classes at tongs (if your university lacks a campus), sharing short conversations while studying at the library or sitting in the cafeteria, running into people you had classes with in hallways, bathrooms, classrooms and even road-crossings – all these short bouts of interactions amount to a complete university experience that can help a student to grow. They fill in the cracks where you would otherwise be alone at any given moment. They shape how you think, feel and see others as you encounter many people from different backgrounds, with their varied experiences and understandings. They give you momentary joy and add to your infinite web of connections.
One’s social life at university is not just about befriending a handful of cherry-picked individuals and spending time with them exclusively. It is also composed of the numerous minor but significant, and even insignificant, encounters one has as they add to the totality of our university experience and our invisible web of connections—all of which we’ve missed in the two years confined to the walls of our homes as we did online classes.
And so this story isn’t just about that one evening car ride or even the bond I forged that day. It’s about the apprehension I felt about missing all the little connections I would have made as an undergrad, and how I could have learned and unlearned the way I see the world around me.
This article was written for Stripe, bdnews24.com's page for youth perspectives on society and culture.