Encountering strangers was a very difficult assignment for me because I am quite shy and it always has been hard for me to speak to random people and strangers. For every time that I came up to a stranger and introduced myself and the assignment I was working on, I hoped that they wouldn’t think of me as a bother.
My first encounter was at the local bagel shop by my house. I sat next to a woman, who looked like a college student, wearing a Queens College sweatshirt. At first I was hesitant to approach her because she seemed irritated and tired. As a college student, I know how that feels. I was able to introduce myself and explain to her that I am a college student as well, working on a field observation report for my Discover New York course. She didn’t seem as irritated and annoyed as she looked after all. She was interested in the assignment and gladly spoke to me about her experience after the hurricane. She was staying over her uncle’s house temporarily because the area in which she lived in has lost power and her building was slightly flooded. I asked her how she would identify herself in regards to the hurricane, and she replied that she was affected severely. She had lost all Internet access, was not able to go on Facebook, and her family’s car was flooded. That was when I realized how much people do not appreciate the fact that all their family members are still alive after this tragic event. Many young people worry about losing power and access to social networking sites, or materialistic things such as cars.
My second encounter was on the line at a gas station. Lines were still long as people waited for the tank to bring gas into the station. As I put my car in park mode, I got out to join a group of people who were discussing the damage that happened during the hurricane. There was one man wearing a suit who seemed to be a business man of some sort. I was hesitant to approach him because he seemed too serious to speak to a stranger about himself. I told him about my assignment, however he wasn’t too fond about the idea of me asking him questions. My prediction was correct, although he did eventually cooperate. He identified himself as a victim of the hurricane because he was not able to get gas to get to work in the city. I asked him whether his family was okay, and he replied that everyone is safe and sound. This encounter, again, made me realize how people under appreciate the important things, the things that come first, and instead worry about things that come second such as work and cars.
Right after the hurricane, many trees came down, especially in the park near my area. That is where I encountered another stranger. I spotted a very old man sitting alone on a bench, wearing expensive looking snow boots and a large winter jacket to keep warm from cold weather. These prestige symbols allowed me to approach him easily, keeping in mind that he is most likely a very cultured and welcoming man. I approached him and introduced myself as a St. John’s student who is conducting a field experiment. After explaining the purpose of the assignment, the man agreed to participate. I quickly recognized his heavy Russian accent. I tried to speak with him in Russian in order for him to understand me better. I noticed he was the only person in the park that day, and so I asked him what he was doing in the park in such weather conditions after the hurricane. He told me that his house is still out of power and stated “why should I stay home passing time on my grandson’s iPad when I could be outside and observe another harsh event in New York’s history that I may possibly never witness again, as I am very old. Many of us do not appreciate both the good things we are given and the bad things that life allows us to survive through.” We conversed about his life back in Russia, his greatest accomplishments, and his experience during the hurricane. I finally asked him a question about identity: “how do you identify yourself, in general or specific terms?” and he gave me a sophisticated answer in the most calm manner: “happy.” This one simple answer made me realize that although this man had a low paying job his whole life, he was passionate about what he did and had a big family to support him and make him the content man that he is. He did not take anything in life for granted, unlike the other two strangers I have encountered.
After encountering three strangers, I realized that the younger generations seem to appreciate materialistic things, such as the businessman or the college girl. Older people, such as the old Russian man, seemed to know the value of things that actually matter.