Building Relationships Away from Home

On the path of life, we encounter strangers, opening the doors of our souls to connect and cultivate relationships. Personal reflections of Huong Dang.

Building Relationships Away from Home

Each individual is a distinct entity, possessing a unique blend of traits, voice, perspective, and lifestyle. This inherent diversity allowed me to rationalize my initial reserve upon my arrival in Russia. I held steadfast to the belief that every individual inhabits their own microcosm, entitled to traverse its confines comfortably. The fear of the unknown is universal. Regardless of one's fortitude or vulnerability, inclination towards sociability or introspection, the initial days in a foreign land, amidst unfamiliar faces, invariably pose challenges. However, my tenure exceeding two years at HSE has wrought a gradual transformation within me. I find myself increasingly receptive to new acquaintances, empathetic towards cultural disparities, and enriched with a burgeoning capacity for affection.

Before my arrival in Russia, I had encountered a number of people throughout my schooling, college, and professional years, leading me to realize that “perception isn't always reality”. With age, I gleaned a deeper understanding that one's outward appearance, their demeanor, merely scratches the surface of their persona, failing to encapsulate their entirety. True comprehension necessitates prolonged dialogue, fostering genuine connections. Yet, a mere handful of adverse impressions from initial encounters can effortlessly breed biases, prompting many to tread cautiously, meticulously crafting favorable impressions during initial interactions. Consequently, passing judgment or forming conclusions about someone's character upon initial encounter becomes implausible.

Perhaps this realization is what gradually led me to adopt a more reserved demeanor. However, the comrades at HSE managed to thaw my aloof exterior. In my field of study, international students were a rarity, with Russian students constituting the majority. They refrained from laughter when I posed questions, initially leading me to believe they harbored disfavor towards me. This, however, was a misinterpretation. In Vietnam, we often extend friendly smiles to most individuals upon initial meetings. However, cultural norms in Russia may differ. Upon confiding in a Russian classmate, as our bond deepened, I discovered that Russians do not commonly smile at strangers. This is merely a cultural norm, devoid of negative connotations. And the absence of smiles does not equate to unfriendliness.

As an international student, language has always presented a formidable barrier hindering my integration, particularly compounded by my introverted nature. I resorted to recording lectures and diligently listening to them every night, scouring for materials in Vietnamese or English, delving into supplementary lectures on YouTube, and enrolling in short online courses. At times, I found myself grappling with doubts, questioning the wisdom of my decision to pursue studies abroad, deeming it a folly. Pessimism and frustration began to overshadow my outlook.

Yet, in a remarkable turn of events, the friends whom I perceived as aloof extended gestures of kindness that transcended my expectations. They shared their lecture notes with me after each session, providing crucial summaries, despite our limited prior interaction. In moments of despair, when surrender seemed imminent, my Russian friends illuminated a path towards a brighter future. It dawned on me that even the simplest of gestures can wield transformative power in the world of a stranger. Indeed, I count myself fortunate to have been the recipient of such kindness as a stranger in a foreign land.

During the ensuing period, a gradual transformation took hold of me. I engaged in more conversations with my classmates, alternating between Russian and English, sometimes resorting to translation software. Along this journey of metamorphosis, I came to the realization that my perceptions may not always align with reality. For instance, individuals who articulate themselves eloquently may be misconstrued as "smooth talkers" or "sycophants," whereas their intention might simply be to "select their words meticulously to foster mutual satisfaction." Conversely, encountering someone who speaks candidly might lead to assumptions of naivety or gullibility, yet prolonged interaction reveals their integrity, adaptability, and a depth of maturity.

Consequently, basing judgments solely on verbal expression proves fallible. While one may disagree with individuals who communicate rudely or impolitely, it would be erroneous to disparage them solely on account of their manner of speech not aligning with personal preferences. Each person possesses unique preferences and personalities, thereby precluding any universal standard or imposition of conformity. In truth, it's impossible to appease everyone, as everyone is an individual with distinct traits.

Reflecting on my experience at HSE over the span of two years, three approaches stand out in aiding my comprehension of others.

Perception through eye contact

People often say, "the eyes are the windows to the soul," suggesting that gazing deeply into someone's eyes during interaction allows for a glimpse into their level of reliability and honesty. Eye contact serves as the most transparent form of communication observable with the naked eye. For instance, during initial encounters, direct eye contact coupled with attentive listening may signal confidence, self-assurance, respectfulness, and attentiveness in the individual. Conversely, if they remain reserved in speech or offer a faint smile, hidden intentions or reservations towards the other person may be inferred, perhaps reluctant to express them overtly or harboring negative sentiments based on initial impressions.

Conversely, a casual, enthusiastic, and comfortable interaction indicates a positive perception and connection with the other person, fostering mutual resonance. On the contrary, avoiding direct eye contact suggests shyness, hesitation, or concealed secrets, or in more severe cases, a lack of respect towards the other person, despite attentively listening. Individuals who frequently glance downward or have a distant gaze may be introspective, emotionally nuanced, or lacking in self-confidence, grappling with personal struggles.

Thus, a brief encounter offers a fleeting insight into an individual's personality through their eyes, laying the groundwork for subsequent interactions to validate initial perceptions and delve deeper into their essence.

Perception through actions

Perceiving someone through their actions is the most practical and realistic form of evaluation. When you fall ill, rather than merely inquiring about your well-being, if they promptly procure medicine, prepare nourishing porridge or hot noodle soup, and tenderly deliver it to you while expressing genuine concern, care, and affection, it showcases their sincere compassion and attentiveness towards your welfare. Similarly, during moments of sadness, their thoughtful gestures tailored to your preferences demonstrate meticulousness and consideration, further underscoring their understanding and empathy.

Sometimes, their mere presence brings solace and joy, as they consistently provide a sense of security, dependability, and ease in confiding. However, the most disquieting sensation arises when faced with adversity or despair, and the person you trust and cherish fails to materialize. In such instances, it becomes imperative to meticulously evaluate the dynamics of the relationship; underlying issues may exist, potentially stemming from a misinterpretation of their concern or undisclosed factors impeding their presence.

Each narrative unfolds within its unique context, underscoring the necessity of thoroughly connecting various events to discern someone's authentic character, thereby circumventing superficial and rash judgments. In moments of misfortune, the individual who suffers most often proves to be the one who harbors the greatest aspirations, invests the deepest emotions, and entrusts the most fervently.

Need for a reliable friend to share with

Amidst periods of intense deadlines, it becomes imperative to seek solace in a trusted confidant rather than succumbing to solitary exhaustion. Typically, you exude an easy-going, affable demeanor, yet the weight of work pressures can render you irritable and prone to temperamental outbursts. During such moments, having a trusted individual to confide in proves invaluable, facilitating a deeper self-awareness and providing solace, motivation, and constructive feedback to nurture personal growth.

Only those closest to you possess the audacity to offer candid, sincere counsel aimed at refining your character traits, as opposed to allowing you to grapple with challenges in isolation, potentially exacerbating negative tendencies without intervention. This approach fosters a sense of self-assurance, as the absence of complaints may obscure self-awareness, hindering the timely rectification of flaws.

A genuine friend remains unwaveringly authentic, guiding you towards progression and self-improvement. Leveraging such relationships enables a nuanced understanding of an individual's character within the context of your interactions.

These strategies serve to cultivate healthy relationships, mitigate risks, and circumvent pitfalls associated with misjudging compatibility. Simultaneously, they facilitate introspection, enabling a comprehensive assessment of personal strengths and weaknesses to facilitate timely rectification and foster continued personal growth.

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Huong Dang