My friend recently flew back to visit his grad school friends. All of us used to do many things together. Since he was back, we decided to play a game we enjoyed — Terraforming Mars. The game took place on a very special Sunday in Boston: it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit — in January.
His visit brought back all the jolly and boisterous memories, which made me wonder — what would life be like after I graduate and move out?
Six years ago, when I was an undergrad in Taiwan, I had a simple and satisfactory life. I went to school. I took classes. Everyone was similar to me. I knew how to talk to people. I knew how to make friends. I understood all the jokes. I studied. I went home after class. I had dinner with my family. I studied more. Life was about working hard and dreaming about becoming a great researcher, and it all made sense.
And then I moved here, to the US. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t know how to do anything. The first two years were really challenging. I was looking for advisors. I went to school. I didn’t know how to ask a question in class. I was the odd one. People spoke English. I didn’t know how to make friends when I couldn’t even understand them. I did not understand any jokes. I studied very hard. I went back home after class. I locked myself in my room. I kept studying very hard. Life was about trying to find my place in a place already filled with dreamers.
Helping with several events in my dorm, Sidney-Pacific (SP), gave me opportunities to meet this new group of friends. I helped simply because I love helping. I still lacked confidence in talking to anyone. Fabian nevertheless initiated the conversation. We talked about classes, talked about our advisors, and then talked about board games, which, to his surprise, I’d never played before. He then invited me to play Terraforming Mars, the very first board game I’d ever tried.
The idea of the game is to make Mars a pleasant place to live in by increasing the temperature, placing some oceans, and planting greenery to raise oxygen.
A “fun” board setup for Terraforming Mars
The first game was not easy. I played it with Fabian and my former roommate Zelda. It was hard to understand and memorize rules in English, let alone keep track of what was happening on the board. I repeatedly asked for clarification of the rules, asked about what moves were taken, and after all those questions, forgot about my plan. Nevertheless, Fabian was so very patient and encouraging. “You played well!” he said with a smile afterwards, even though we both know that wasn’t true.
I didn’t win the game, but I really enjoyed it — and the company. Terraforming Mars was the start to a whole new world of board games and friendships. My life has since become much more vibrant.
My new friends were extremely warm and welcoming. I was invited to a friendsgiving and made my first key lime pie. I was invited to a birthday party and helped extract my first puzzle. I started to spend time during SP’s weekly coffee hour having ridiculous discussions about how to flip the world’s biggest pancake, how to use lasers to cook bacon, and how long it would take to fully dissolve a person in pineapple juice. (Don’t ask about that last one!)
I started to feel more comfortable talking to people. These experiences also gave me confidence in trying new things. I asked my first question in class! I registered an account on Sporcles, bought a book of cryptic crosswords, found a liking for alternative rock. I learned dancing. I went to different shows, as elegant as Boston Ballet, or as ridiculous as Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare. I hosted my first party, made my first cake, and even ran my first Charles River half-marathon. But the most important thing I learned is the value of friendship. Life as a grad student is not easy, especially when your family is on the other side of the planet. However, I know my friends have my back. This realization gave me power, and it is this power that helped me overcome the challenges I encountered in my first two years. It is this power that continues to bolster my courage.
People started to graduate. The friend I mentioned in the first paragraph graduated and moved out. Zelda graduated. Fabian kept up the effort of holding a weekly board games gathering. We still have a group of people playing board games and puzzles together for now. I don’t know where I’ll go, but one day I’ll graduate.
That Sunday when my friend came back to Cambridge was a very special Sunday. From the time we started the game at 4 pm to when we finished at 9 pm, the temperature had dropped from 70 degrees to 40. Life is impermanent. Things change. Every relationship has an end. It’s just a fact.
But I’m glad to have made the connections I’ve made. In the words of poet Ellen Dore Watson,
“The lifers who, even seven states away, are the porches where we land.”
I will be the porches. I have my friends’ back. I will be there when they need me.
Besides, I know how to terraform friendship. I can increase the temperature. We will stay in touch.