Below is a throwback from an unpublished post I wrote as an exchange student in the USA. This is a funny story, but also a reminder to step outside of your comfort zone. Disclaimer, re-reading the shortened text language fills me with horror – oh how things have changed. Enjoy xx
Monday 10:49am: “Hey Girl, Im serious about us wrkn out 2gether, Ill figure out which days Im free & let u no.”
I stare blankly at the text message as I search through memories of the weekend (most of them are awash with a slightly intoxicated haze – this makes things a little difficult). Who did I agree to go to the gym with I wonder? My brain searches through poorly packaged memories and eventually focuses on something from Saturday night. I bump into a friend at the bar, we take shots, I meet her friends, I buy more shots…this must be it. I have agreed to become a gym buddy with someone at a bar and conveniently wiped it from my memory. I reply
Monday 11:09: “Hey! sori who is this?”
Monday 11:15am: “Tara Ward”
Her name sparks no activity inside my brain. I wonder if it’s all the partying from the previous weekend and consider cutting back. She must be a friend of a friend right? I am not sure what the next move should be. I play along.
Monday 11:17am: “Oh Hey! That snds great, just let me no wen ur free: )”
I hope that she cannot hear the doubtful tone in my voice. Tara Ward asks if I would like to go to a ‘boot camp’ session at 8am on Saturday morning. I tell Tara Ward that I would love to…yes this is a slight exaggeration. I am a little excited though, and by the end of the week, I am so serious that I skip a Friday night out, in favour of a quiet, alcohol free evening preparing for the torture I expect to face at 8am the next morning. (Boot camp, I decide, will be painful enough without adding a killer headache and unstable stomach to the equation).
I get up early on Saturday and somehow manage to lock my keys in my room (along with my ID card, which is required when using university facilities– I am clearly not used to being awake this early)
As I begin the 20-minute walk to campus, I message Tara Ward to let her know I’m on my way. I also tell her I’ve locked my ID in my room, and ask if she thinks they’ll still let me into the Student Rec centre. She messages back to say she is five minutes away.
I have no idea whatsoever what Tara Ward looks like. I assume that a) I will walk in, recognize her and my memory would be miraculously returned or b) I will walk in, she will recognize me, and my memory would be miraculously returned. You know what they say about assumptions.
I queued at reception behind a girl I didn’t know. We make polite chatter and she asks if I am here for boot camp too. “I sure am” I reply enthusiastically. As we chat, I also mention that I locked my ID in my room and that I’m not sure if they will still let me in. “Wow that is so funny because my friend just text me saying the same thing,” she says. Comforted by the thought that other people lock themselves out, I stand patiently waiting to enter the gym.
The girl moves forward and gives the receptionist her name “Tara Ward” The Rubik’s cube inside my head starts to twist. I ask the girl “Excuse me, uhh – Was that me that texted you?” She gives me an understandably odd look. “Ummm…I’m sure it was my friend Amber,” she says as she looks through her blackberry. I can feel Tara Ward inching away from me. I have become the weird foreign girl, the awkward stranger – The creeper.
I feel uncomfortable, but I ask: “err, do you have my number saved under her name?” She reads out my phone number and the Rubik’s cube clicks into place. T-Mobile has recycled a number a little too close to home. Not only within the same small town – but the same university inside a small town.
Tara Ward and I have never met. She is not friends with any of my friends and Tara Ward was not expecting to meet an over eager foreign girl at 8am on a Saturday morning. I was however feeling a little better knowing that I had not just experienced extreme memory loss. The memory of Tara Ward did not exist.
The instructor never showed for the boot camp class that I had been so excitedly dreading. Tara Ward and I however, undefeated by a tardy instructor, hit the treadmills and bikes together instead. We forged a nice morning together as we covered our embarrassment. She kindly drove me home and we even talked about meeting up again.
This does raise questions; Am I naturally prone to awkward situations? Or do I just look for them because I am in another country? Having recently thrust myself into new world where I knew nobody, I think I have made myself open to just about anything.
At home, I have friends, people I know, a routine, a job and little need or want to meet people in potentially uncomfortable ways (i.e. working out with someone you’ve never met). I think when we are comfortable; we get lazy and do not situate ourselves in risky social situations. Generalization of course, but who hasn’t skipped out on a party because they “wouldn’t know anyone” or assumed they “wouldn’t fit in”? It is normal, human behavior to avoid criticism or feelings of insecurity. When you are content in your own social groups, why make an effort?
Warrensburg has definitely taught me how rewarding social risks can be. Saying yes, (even when I am unsure) has led me to so many great experiences. In three short months I have been to a country rodeo, a family reunion in Tennessee and a stranger’s birthday dinner.
It does not always go to plan. I haven’t seen Tara Ward since that morning and I can only imagine how she relays the story about the weird New Zealand girl she met over the weekend. But to be honest, it doesn’t really bother me. There are many people we never get to know – often because we have passed on an opportunity. Take a risk, I dare you – maybe you and Tara Ward will become friends.