Tea with strangers: AU student aims to chat with residents across D.C.

Erica Christian | Photo Editor
Culture Editor Emily Holland sits down with Sarah Harvard, a rising senior at American University who launched a website to meet up with new people in the D.C. area. Erica Christian | Photo Editor

This post was written by Culture Editor Emily Holland.

Sarah Harvard, a rising senior at American University, has one goal before she leaves the District: meet as many of the city’s about 600,000 residents as possible.

To start chipping away at the task, Harvard created a website where anyone can sign up to grab tea with her. The site, drinkteawithsarah.com, is modeled after a similar project by Ankit Shah, who met with strangers at the University of Pennsylvania and now meets with people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

While Ankit has met with more than 200 people, I became Harvard’s third meet-up in D.C. when I signed up for a tea date.

The conversation started with the typical get-to-know-you-questions like “Where are you from?” and “What’s your major?” She was sipping on a Cool Lime Refresher from Starbucks while I opted for a Caramel Macchiato – not quite tea, but it was hot outside and I needed the caffeine.

As we sat in Farragut Square on a breezy Friday afternoon, surrounded by people on lunch breaks lining up at the food trucks, both Harvard and I settled in and became more comfortable.

“I swear a lot, I hope that’s okay,” she said.

After that, the conversation meandered through her past, from a celebrity interview with American rapper T.I. that she conducted through a program with the Chicago Tribune at age 17, when she wasn’t quite into rap music and thought she was going to talk to someone from Texas Instruments, to her more recent live-in nanny horror story.

“I was basically an indentured servant,” she said. “Last semester it was so bad that I escaped in the middle of the night with my plastic bag of clothes.”

We bonded over film studies, journalism (she used to write columns for American University’s student newspaper and is now an intern at Al Jazeera) and comedy.

Between her mock Jimmy Kimmel Lie Witness News stunt at the Conservative Political Action Conference and her stories of acting as the family jokester, I wasn’t surprised when Harvard mentioned that she wanted to try to perform a stand-up routine.

“I really want to be a comedian, or I just decided that I wanted to be a comedian three days ago,” Harvard said. “Yesterday I was just looking up videos of how Kathy Griffin talks so now I’m just like, ‘Hi, my name is Kathy Griffin,’ in her voice.”

Still, Harvard said, she has to appear professional as well.

“I realize that I have a hard balance because I want to be taken seriously and I want to do foreign policy and start-ups and shit like that, but at the same time I say like the dumbest shit,” Harvard said. “But I’m smart and I don’t think people know how to balance that out.”

She wasn’t shy about sharing any aspects of her life and made me feel relaxed enough to talk about the intimate or embarrassing details of mine, from my parent’s divorce to the night my phone was stolen out of my hands on the Metro.

Once you laugh about your misfortunes with someone else, there’s an odd sort of connection that forms between the two of you. I was not eager for our tea date to end, but I needed to go to lunch and Harvard said she was off to find Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, somewhere in the city.

I left with a new acquaintance, or at the very least a new Facebook friend, and an invite to a 21st birthday party. So I guess when you stumble across a website asking you to have tea with a stranger, just go for it.

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