As you know from yesterday’s post, I started going to summer camp at SCC back in the summer of 1998, and just like overcoming fears, camp was a great place for making new friends. I was invited by my lifelong neighbors from across the lane, and had another excellent friend going that same session, but that meant that I knew 3 people of a total of a possible 180 campers and somewhere around 50 staff members for a week long overnight camp. Oi vey!
The first thing to remember when put in a brand new situation with what seems like hundreds, thousands or even millions of new faces around and tons of new people to meet is to start small. I knew I was in a cabin with 8 other boys all around my age, and a counselor who probably appeared to be 37, but in all actuality I think was 19. (Funniest guess I ever got as a staff member? A little girl thought I was 45 on the archery range. I was turning 20 the next week.)
Alright, so I’m thinking small, with my mother and father right behind me. They began setting up my bedding, making sure I have enough socks for the week (never mind the fact about that one time at Boy Scout camp where I wore the same pair of tube socks the entire rain drenched week!) and trying not to look too protective. As an 11 year old about to spend a week away from home, they were clearly failing to do so, but nevertheless, I still loved them.
The great thing about the first day of camp was everyone arrived usually at different times. Before the end of my tenure at camp, I ended up being one of the first to arrive every year I could because I couldn’t wait to get there. However, that first year there were already a couple of the boys already in the cabin.
I stretched out my hand and said in a high pitched voice, “Hi! I’m Josh. What’s your name?”
Over the years I have perfected this for all situations, but as a kid, I was still learning. These days I make and sustain eye contact with whomever I am meeting, I firmly shake their hand without hurting them, and I repeat their name after they tell me to make sure I heard it correctly. If it is a little different, or I am just a little unsure, I will say something like, “Oh, Caroline? Like, I-N-E or L-Y-N-N-E?” to which they always respond the proper spelling. It’s a nice little trick to make sure I learned their name properly. After that, I always say some variation of “it is truly a pleasure meeting you Caroline.”
In my head, I usually look at the person and say their name a few times in my head just to make sure I can remember it properly, but at the same time trying not to appear crazy or creepy while staring at someone I just met. Nifty trick when done properly, though also hilarious for me when people get freaked out.
After making friends with my cabin mates, I was adventurous to branch out and start meeting their friends or siblings, the girls from my friends cabins, people in the cabins around mine and similar in age, different people in the electives I took, etc. By the end of that first week at camp, it almost felt like I knew every single person in that entire camp, and some years I probably came close. The key was though to start with small groups, and work my way up.
Since that first year I’ve met at least hundreds if not thousands of new people and have made more friendships that have stood the test of time and distance than I could have imagined that first day. Looking back, it seems crazy how many different people I have met, heard their stories, shared laughter and tears with. How many people that have stood by my side or I theirs in times of need. Countless hugs I’ve given that somehow made everything so much better. It amazes me how different my life might be had I not met them or had that fleeting conversation with them.
Because of camp, I have gone into so many new experiences in life including going to a college where I knew one person, or living in Europe for 2 semesters, one in Madrid, where I spoke no Spanish, then one on the French Riviera where the Spanish I just learned consumed my foreign speaking and the 7 years of French flew right out the window. I moved twice for work, right out of college to Florida, and after 2 years I now live in Maine. All through these travels, my experiences from camp have laid the foundation for what I knew needed to be done.
Every single time I walked down a new path with new people in my life, I held my head high, looked right into someone’s eyes and said, “Hi, I’m Josh. What’s your name?”
Question: What do you do in a situation where you are meeting people for the first time?