By Roeland van Beek
People ask me why I’m still working for the UCU Accent Project, more than a year into my non-linguistics masters: sitting in the recording room for an entire evening, answering the same questions, ringing the same bell over and over again. It’s not that I like the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf so much or that I can’t get enough of students reading that really long extract from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights twice. No, there’s more to it.
I meet five new students in one evening. While most third-years have long given up on meeting new people, I as an alumnus get to know enough first years to fill an entire Introweek family in two days. Well, meeting them… A lot of students that I record don’t even say hi to me the next day. Furthermore, reading texts that I already know verbatim doesn’t exactly create a great get-to-know-each-other atmosphere either.
What makes this job so much fun for me is the second part of the recording. Six minutes in which the students talk non-stop about themselves, about their holidays, courses, adventures, essays, or dreams, about their home town, their gap year or, their future. If that isn’t enough, there’s still a three-minute conversation to ask them whatever I want – it’s almost like speed dating.
It is because of these recordings that I still know first- and second-years on campus. The girl who brought a beer to her first recording, the guy who asks every time whether he actually has to call Stella, the guy who explained how he cheated on his exam: it’s amazing how much you can learn from listening to someone’s unprepared monologue.
Even more so when asking questions without the other person feeling obliged to be brief: if there’s one thing I learned from doing these recordings, it is that you can have a conversation with anyone. We usually don’t, because for some reason we create an awkward silence after having asked two questions in a row. Get rid of this awkwardness, and campus is yours.
You should try it. It’s a perfect experiment for Dining Hall, or what’s left of it. When you’re done with your everyday talk about the violations of your human rights, start asking people questions, but instead of interrupting with your own opinions, reply with a new question. Not only will this save you from all kinds of silence, it also guarantees very interesting stories about people’s lives outside of campus. Just to get through those days you aren’t busy kidnapping the dean, you know.