Tips for talking to other people

I met Jessie at the Graduate Students Initiative lunch yesterday.
She’s a first-year grad student taking up a master’s degree in
chemical engineering while her husband takes an MBA. (Wow, that’s
tough!) She moved here around two months ago too, and is getting used
to learning in English. We talked about how difficult it was to start
conversations. I e-mailed her these tips afterwards. =)

- Take advantage of common ground. At a graduate student lunch, you
know that everyone’s a graduate student, so you can ask people the
usual questions: What program are you taking? When did you start? Why
University of Toronto? Do you have any tips for other grad students?
If you’re at the International Student Centre, ask about where people
are from, when they moved here, what they learned while moving… In a
club? Ask about how people got interested in the club and how the
activities have been so far. =)

- Take advantage of the fact that you’re new to Toronto. Ask about
winter. Ask about places to shop or eat cheaply. Ask about things
you’re curious about. Most people love helping other people figure
things out. It’s a great way to get people in a conversation

- Read the newspaper. If you don’t have time, just read the headlines
and the editorials. This’ll give you plenty of stuff to talk about.

- Don’t worry if people don’t seem friendly. Maybe they’re just having
a bad day. When talking to someone, you can figure out if they’re
interested in talking to you or if they just want to be by themself.
If they smile, explain, and ask you questions, then even if you don’t
start off with any common interests, you’re bound to find something
interesting. On the other hand, if they sound distracted or they
answer with very short sentences (“No. Yes. Fine.”), maybe it’s just
not a good time to talk to them. Smile, thank them for their time, and
move on.