Felipe Chiriboga, a junior majoring in economics and philosophy, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
This summer I was backpacking around Southeast Asia with my three best friends from high school. One day, we were sightseeing in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, when a skinny boy approached us and began asking questions in faulty English: “Where are you from?” and “How old are you?”
Maybe I should have reciprocated his kindness. But as an Ecuadorian brought up by an overprotective mother, instead I was distressed. We wondered what this boy wanted. Maybe he was trying to sell us something, or maybe even rob us. Meanwhile, he just stared at us and smiled.
Soon, a second boy joined in and sat next to one of my friends. The group around us kept growing, and soon included over 15 university students. As it turns out, they wanted to talk to tourists and improve their English, making us feel embarrassed for judging them so quickly.
I was shocked by the gathering of strangers and how outgoing they were, and I realized that things like this never happen to me at GW. We live tucked into our personal space, shielded by some headphones or a smartphone screen and barely aware of the people who surround us.
In Vietnam, I learned that a true community is formed by people coexisting in a space where they’re encouraged to talk to each other – whether that means discussing the day’s news, or their problems and achievements. After misjudging those students in Vietnam, I realized how wrong I was not to notice people’s kindness.
We tend to judge hard, and we tend to judge wrong, which only stops us from opening our personal space and thoughts to those around us. GW students, staff and faculty should try to be more friendly, open and helpful to strangers.
Leave your phone in your pocket and your judgments aside, and be open to talking to the Starbucks employees about the weather. Be ready to say hi to another student when you cross paths. Talk to someone on the Metro. Being more open and friendly allows us all to have more positive, engaging experiences.
And don’t wait for the idyllic opportunity to act kindly to hit you in the face in order to do so: Force yourself to become more attentive. Not only could you help someone in distress, but you will also meet new and interesting people.
That night in Vietnam, we walked back to our hotel unhurriedly, mystified by the event. When we stopped merely sightseeing and instead began experiencing, it was pure magic.