The power of “hello”

World Hello Day is coming up on Nov. 21. Azra was challenged to say “hello” to ten people, and here’s how it went.


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About Azra

Azra (she/her) is an MSc student in the School of Public Health, and a volunteer with Unitea, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and The FentaNIL Project. When she’s not on campus, you can find her exploring new restaurants around the city or curled up with her cat and a book.


Connecting with others is such a meaningful way to enrich our lives and feel fulfilled. Every "hello" won't lead to an extremely intimate friendship, but the interactions are still beneficial and important. Even just a quick chat with your barista at the Daily Grind or the person sitting next to you in class can have an impact. Who knows, you might even meet someone you really hit it off with! 

The importance of casual conversations has become especially apparent over the last few years, but it can be daunting to strike up a conversation with a stranger. World Hello Day is a reminder to step out of our comfort zones and reach out to the people around us. 

In anticipation of World Hello Day, I took up the challenge to say "hello" to ten strangers (or near strangers), in person and virtually. Here's what my experience was like. 

A stranger in an airport bookstore, looking at Stephen King novels: 

I've discovered that sometimes I can't stop myself from giving unsolicited book recommendations. A man was standing in front of the Stephen King novels, blocking the tiny aisle where I wanted to browse. I meant to say "excuse me" and pass by, but instead asked if he'd read Misery since it's my favourite—he had. We ended up chatting for a few minutes while browsing, and it was a really enjoyable way to pass the time. I left with lots of great book recommendations, and he ended up buying one that I told him about (Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver–I'm currently in the middle of it). 

An acquaintance I want to be friends with: 

I find it much scarier to reach out to someone that I sort of know than to make small talk with a stranger. It took more mental gymnastics to reach out to someone I'd met once before than to chat with a stranger in a bookstore. 

K and I met a few months ago at a mutual friend's birthday dinner, and it felt like we talked the whole night. We covered everything from new places to eat in Edmonton to the health care system in Alberta. When it was time to go home, we exchanged Instagrams, and then… nothing. 

I thought she was super cool and would have loved to hang out, but I wasn't sure if she felt the same or how exactly to reach out. I constructed this narrative in my mind that she was WAY too cool to want to talk to me, and it felt safer to keep my distance than potentially embarrass myself by reaching out. 

But I embraced the spirit of World Hello Day and sent her a message asking if she wanted to grab coffee (probably with way too many exclamation marks). She replied a few days later, and we have plans to grab coffee in a couple of days! 

Long-distance friends I've been out of touch with: 

As people in my life will know, I'm not the best at replying to texts (sorry). Sometimes, I'll see a text when I'm in the middle of something and will tell myself that I'll respond later but ultimately forget about it. Sometimes, my social battery will be drained after a long day, and I'll want to throw my phone away and just spend time with my cat. 

I don't think that's a problem in and of itself—we all need alone time—but I sometimes feel guilty about not responding, which creates an additional mental burden to connecting. In the spirit of World Hello Day, I've been trying to get out of my head and just hit send! Here's what I did: 

  1. To J: sent a silly meme on Instagram with a message saying, "This is in my head, now it'll be in yours too!" 
  2. To S & E, who live far away: a group message asking for life updates, including a couple of specific questions about things I know are happening in each of their lives, a request for a highlight from the last week and something they're looking forward to and a quick summary of what I've been doing (and my highlight and thing I'm excited about). 
  3. To K: a link to a podcast episode that I think they'll enjoy and a request for their thoughts on it once they listen. 

These are people I don't see very often, but when we're together, it feels like no time has passed. It can be hard to stay in touch with friends who live far away, especially across time zones. Sending someone a meme on Instagram or a photo of something that reminds you of them is a nice reminder that you're thinking of them! It might not be as impactful as an in-person catch-up and a hug, but a quick text shows that you care. It's like a little virtual hug :) 

A run-in with someone who I haven't seen in years: 

I was heading to a meeting in SUB and spotted C, whom I knew from living and working in Residence. I was in a rush, and some days, I'd keep walking, but I called her name and asked her what she was doing on campus. We chatted for a couple minutes and realized we were both studying public health before continuing on with our days. We both had places to go, but it was nice to see a familiar face on campus. 

A quick chat with a barista: 

I am endlessly grateful for baristas. I am a big fan of coffee, and a good coffee has the power to make my day. I went to a few coffee shops this week and had a quick chat with each of my baristas while I was ordering. One day, it was short and sweet, and another, I stumbled over my words when ordering and made a joke about how I wasn't fully awake yet. 

The little interactions are nice! A conversation doesn't have to be emotionally intense and long in order to be meaningful. Sometimes, a quick chat can be exactly what I need, and I hope it makes them smile, too! 

A tea time with Unitea

Connection starts with a conversation, and what better way to connect than over a cup of tea or coffee? Unitea strives to build connections at the U of A through one-on-one and group conversations between students and peers or alumni Unitea hosts.

Unitea is one way to fill your social battery by connecting with other students in individual or group conversations. 

This week, I had a tea time with N, who is also a graduate student. Once we grabbed our tea (hers) and coffee (mine) from the Daily Grind, we started chatting. We covered our research and labs, how it feels different from our undergrads and the ways that we've connected with other grad students. We also chatted about our experiences moving to Edmonton and how the winter isn't as bad as we expected it to be (but it's 3 degrees as I write this, so maybe I'll change my mind). 

Some things I learned from this experience: 

  1. People are generally happy to connect. Of course, it's nuanced, but that's been my experience. 
  2. I'm more intimidated about reaching out to acquaintances than complete strangers. I'm not totally sure why this is, but I will be reflecting on it! 
  3. I will forever be searching for the balance between too much socializing in a day and not enough. 

Moving forward: 

Social connection is an important contributor to our well-being, but it can often be the first thing to go when the semester gets stressful. 

World Hello Day reminds us of the importance of social connection. Join Days of Action for World Hello Day events on Nov. 21, including drop-in activities and social hours, and check out the Hello Day calendar for ideas on how to connect with others on campus (while entering to win prizes)!