Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 21, 2024


Kaufman reflects on her experiences talking to strangers on the JHMI.

It takes roughly 40 minutes to get from Homewood Campus to the medical campus. Those are 40 minutes spent crowded among strangers as you sit through rush hour traffic, but they’re also 40 minutes of freedom. 40 minutes where it would be incredibly inconvenient to pull a laptop out and start doing homework, so your only responsibility is to hang onto a railing and try not to fall. 

I have come to see my commutes as reprieves — breaks in the middle of busy days. I often spend them gazing out the window, watching the scenery of a new city pass me by. The brick and cobblestone buildings are incredibly unlike the Floridian suburbs I’m used to back home, and I’ve loved watching the cityscape evolve as the seasons change. The bus rides’ unlikely serenity has also made them the perfect space in which to write poetry. I’ve come to love taking this time to appreciate and write about my days and surroundings. 

The bus rides are also intrinsically social. Hundreds of Hopkins students and affiliates use the JHMI as their main source of transportation, so it’s no wonder I often encounter people I know during these rides. I love running into friends and spending the bus rides catching each other up on our days. 

Despite being a shared hallmark of all our Hopkins experiences, though, most of the bus rides are spent in complete silence. We each get on, settle into a seat, put our earbuds in and bask in the awkwardness of this all. In many ways, it’s a lost opportunity to connect with others who share our schedules and environments. Upon realizing this, I challenged myself to start talking to these strangers. I wanted to meet people in my community and learn about their stories.

Over the next few weeks, I tried to speak with the commuters who sat next to me. It was always intimidating to start conversations, especially when doing so meant disturbing the quiet peace of the bus, but I was surprised by how open most people were to these discussions. I spoke with people from all walks of life, from students to senior citizens. I talked to freshmen taking the route for the first time and nurses with years of experience. I met a magazine salesman on his way to the campus bookstore and a student-volunteer who had just watched a stent removal procedure for the first time. At one point, I even ended up in a conversation with my biology professor’s husband! 

Some of these people came to Baltimore from across the world, and I even had conversations in foreign languages. We spoke about our cultures, our hometowns and our future goals. I learned about the degree programs that brought these people to Hopkins and about the struggles and achievements of their time here. 

I got glimpses into their lives, from the seminars they had seen that day to the research they were working on. These strangers taught me about cognitive science and hematology — about ophthalmology and business. 

Over time, I began to ask people for general advice or life lessons. I received all kinds of responses: to stay safe, work hard and follow my gut. One recent graduate even launched into a conversation about getting into medical school, where he emphasized the importance of “building yourself, not just your resume.” However, the most common response to this question was about networking. People shared the joys of connecting with strangers and meeting others of all backgrounds — precisely what this endeavor of mine was meant to do. 

These conversations built community between us. They often transcended the interviews for The News-Letter they began as, and evolved into a way for strangers to connect. Some of the conversations turned into group discussions, and they carried on without my involvement for the rest of the ride. I also ran back into people I’d spoken with, and it was great to wave at familiar faces. 

So, next time you take the bus, take a moment to talk to those around you. We’re all busy, but it’s often worth taking a break from our work to focus on our communities. And if you see me, come say “hi” — I’d love to hear your story. 

Sara Kaufman is a freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Biomedical Engineering. Her column focuses on the experiences she’s had and lessons she’s learned outside the classroom.

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