By Amber Roos
Dinner with a Stranger is probably one of the most nerve-wrecking events a student of Amsterdam University College (AUC) can attend. Students sign up via a Google Form and either host a dinner for a stranger in their own room or get sent a random room number to go to for dinner. It was introduced by AUC’s Peer Support last year and it was organised for the third time last month.
Some might wonder why people would volunteer for a situation potentially set up for disaster – dinner with a stranger might, after all, be more than a little awkward. But Oliver Reddy, a second-year Science major, has attended all three of the events and has had an overall positive experience. “I think the experience of meeting a person for the first time puts you out of your comfort zone, which is great,” he said. “Since we all live together we might as well speak to each other.”
Peer Support organises these events to help students meet people outside of their usual social circle. Nowa O’Connell, a first-year Social Science major, thinks having dinner with someone is a good opportunity to make new friends. “It’s not something that’s forced, so you voluntarily do it,” she said. “That means they’re going to be nice because they want to do it as well.”
Aster Witvliet, a second-year Science major, who was O’Connell’s host for the most recent Dinner with a Stranger agrees. “It’s a nice way to connect with people,” she said.
Reddy notes that it can be hard for students to meet new people after a certain point. “AUC, just as any other school or university, consists of smaller social circles which were formed in the first few weeks of university,” he said. “After that the meeting-people-phase is pretty much over.”
Witvliet also believes that social dynamics change after the first weeks. “I don’t think it’s necessarily difficult to meet people,” she said, “but I think it is maybe difficult to establish a good, permanent friendship with a new person.” Witvliet has the impression everyone already has their own friend group by now, and sees it as difficult to constantly merge friend groups together every time she meets someone new. “You have to go really out of your way to keep up that relationship with this one person,” she said.
O’Connell, although she herself has both Dutch and international friends, sees a different trend in how friend groups are formed at AUC. “All the international kids kind of stick together, that’s what everyone says,” she said. She thinks Dinner with a Stranger is a good event to possibly break down that common division a bit.
Witvliet says she would definitely do Dinner with a Stranger again, since it gives her the opportunity to realise how differently others can experience the same university. “You can really see the different experiences at AUC,” she said, “even though it can [at times] feel like everyone is the same.”
Reddy thinks Dinner with a Stranger is a very good idea, and believes it could even be expanded. “‘The Come Dine with Me’ show is sort of the same idea but with more people, and I also think that would be cool,” he said. This would basically mean having dinner with multiple strangers, on multiple occasions. It might lead to new friendships, but might also result in a handful of nights filled with awkward silences. One never knows in advance, but ain’t that the charm?