The Ice Breaker
Last week, I volunteered to help interview scholarship applicants for my alma mater. There were several reasons to do this. Firstly, the reason I would cite whenever someone important asked, I would like to contribute back to the school that has played a huge part in shaping who I am: a well-rounded person.
Secondly, the reason I would tell the professors who also helped with the interviews, I would like to get a pulse on what young people think these days. In other words, I’m old.
Thirdly, the reason I would tell myself when no one else was around, the gig came attached with a nice steak lunch. It goes together, I would think, that the meal and the interviews were meant to be well done.
But, I digress. Before I start making everybody hungry, let’s progress from the topic of steak lunch and get to the meat.
As I listened, empathised and, sometimes, criticised the young adults’ dreams, desires, and the occasional doubts, I began to remember mine when I was their age. Yes, I am old enough to say that now, apparently.
I, too, was a young student, anxious to plunge into the world of tertiary education and excited to make a mark in this world. Let me bring you to one sunny afternoon, about a decade ago, in a university within an earshot of Malaysia. That would be NTU, if you’re wondering. It was the first day of school all over again. After a morning of introductions, we students were left to roam the vast extracurricular fair in the main campus building.
I was waiting for my friend to show up since we both wanted to check out the debate society booth. I had caught debate in high school because it was an attractive proposition. That itself is a tale for another day, but that day my friend and the booth were nowhere to be seen. Something was fishy, and it was not the Fishing Club.
Begrudgingly, I texted my friend. That adverb requires an explanation. I was begrudged not by my friend, but by the fact that a text used to cost money. Yes, back in those days I was a cheap student who would rather wait patiently than sending panicked texts or, even worse, making calls. And, just for the record, I always maximised my 160 characters limit.
Eventually, I decided to abandon the meeting point to explore on my own. However, I found the Explorer’s Society booth to be quite mundane. I soldiered on, past the Police Cadet Corp’s booth, but I became bored by the time I had reached the Board Games Society’s booth.
And there it was, an empty table with a small piece of paper taped on top, which said “Debating Society”. Maybe they should have renamed themselves into “Debate Society”, because it had been apparent that they were too busy debating on whether they should even bother showing up. Maybe they didn’t need any new blood because there was enough of theirs boiling already. Or, maybe, they didn’t need a new guy like me who kept on thinking of maybes.
I looked around, clearly looking lost at that point. Right then, a bright flash caught my eye. It was the classic, shiny golden Toastmasters banner, with a big blue ‘T’ emblazoned on it and the words “NTU Toastmasters Club”, waving at me from afar.
My curiosity brought me to the booth, ready to ask very relevant questions. I was excited to know how you could create a club, with a very distinguished banner to boot, out of making toasts, in a toaster oven.
Needless to say, I had zero knowledge of Toastmasters up until that fateful day. I talked to the friendly seniors at the booth, was immediately enlightened of my misunderstanding and picked up their brochure. Several days later, I went to my very first chapter meeting, unknowingly beginning a new chapter in my life.
I did not participate in table topics that evening, but I listened, laughed and certainly clapped a lot. Over the next few years, I stuck with Toastmasters as my extracurricular activity, a safe haven where I could build my confidence and my communication skills, as well as the points needed to retain my accommodation. As I progressed through the speeches, I encountered friends with sharp wits, big hearts, and strong hands from all the clapping.
I am happy to break the ice, once again after all these years. I may have taken a considerable amount of time to thaw, but I am finally ready to sizzle and, hopefully, come out in the end well done.