Day 1 started at a respectable hour of 10.30, with the first half an hour for registration. Registration means 2 things for me 1) filling in forms and signing my name, explaining that yes, I am technically Elizabeth, but please call me Lil, and 2) awkward small talk.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out my name badge said Lil (hurrah!), and less pleasantly surprised when I realised I was in a room of 60 people I didn’t know, trying to hold my overflowing handbag, take off my coat because I was so hot from the walk, and drink a cup of coffee, all whilst scanning the room looking for an ‘in’ to start a conversation with someone so I didn’t have to stand awkwardly by myself.
I see a girl with a name badge on who is in the same tutor group as me. I use that as my in. To my surprise she is even more shy than I am. Retrospectively, why should I have been surprised? She was also standing on her own, sipping her coffee. We exchanged pleasantries, what’s your name, what do you study, where do you live…but the conversation stalled, and I felt self-conscious.
I’m awful at conversation
A guy approaches, and restarts a similar conversation, and she slips out. I manage to get in some ‘leading’ questions, my way of making small talk more bearable for myself. Leading questions are anything that can’t have a one-word answer. Why did you choose to study what you do? What led you to a PhD in Cambridge? What did you do over the weekend? I have got so good at these leading questions, because it means I don’t have to talk about myself, a thing many of us are not so great at. The other person may talk a lot more than I do, granted, but still there are no awkward silences. As I have reached the ripe old age of 23 (so ripe, so old, nothing more to be learnt), however, I have become so used to awkward silences that I care less now with every awkward chat. Yes, at times I still have waves of crippling self-consciousness, but I am slowly learning that silence is ok, and you will not always be able to have an amazing chat with everyone. In fact, there are many instances when silence is better than OK, but I will save that for another post.
11.01 rolls around, and we are called into the main auditorium. I survived. I walk into the auditorium and sit with my new friend. Small talk is over, for now.