A Choice to Live Curiously

It was just another ordinary day at the UC Irvine Student Center. The sun was shining its 75-degree-rays across the beautiful blue southern Californian sky. Students were spread out across the tables busily chatting away about venue parties, eating Wendy’s and doing some last minute studying. And there I was as well, sitting with my friends underneath the tan umbrella munching away at my leftovers, checking my watch cautiously to make sure I had enough time to hike my way over to Mordor (MSTB) for discussion. Just another ordinary day.

Suddenly, I began to hear a string of melodic tunes coming from … a harmonica. I turned to my left and to my surprise, I saw an older gentleman, strapped in black suspenders that seemed to be over-exerting themselves to hold a pair of jeans up. A shopping cart from Trader Joe’s stood nearby filled to the brim with a barrage of clothes, food, duffel bags and papers. The harmonica played on. And my curiosity grew.

I gravitated toward him and introduced myself. His name was Andy. I had a burning desire to listen to his story and hear how he ended up at UCI on this ordinary sunny day, playing his harmonica for all of those at the Student Center to hear.

I was simply curious.

What started out as small talk turned into a 2-hour conversation. I missed my class. We explored a myriad of topics, ranging from his high school days as being top of his class to his recent troubles with his crazy ex-wife and his longing to be reunited with his daughter. My curiosity pressed on. More conversations followed after that day and the weeks after.

It’s been almost a year now since I first met Andy. Although Andy is homeless, his intelligence, ambition and perseverance to make it back to society declassifies him as anything but a homeless man. My level of curiosity continues to be renewed each and every time I meet him, as there is always a story or a lesson for me to listen and learn about.

The bigger picture in this story however, is not about the friendship that Andy and I have come to develop. Though the issue of homelessness is important for other conversations, the highlight of this article is about the root of how stories such as these emerge.

It starts with curiosity.

Take a moment and think about what curiosity means to you. You might be surprised how omnipresent it is in your life — how actions that involve everything, from your social interactions to future career aspirations, all begin with this simple idea of curiosity. However, it is not in our nature to go the extra level and ask question to satisfy that curiosity. It is much easier to look at someone or somewhere, an ideal or a belief, whatever it may be, and label it according to society’s standards. And I don’t blame that rationale. After all, we live in a world of instant gratification, sunrise to sundown schedules and maybe-another-time attitudes. Who has the time to ask all these questions?

Well, we as college students, do. Not only do we have the time to do so, we also have the resources and the opportunities to start living a life of curiosity. We attend a university that is made of almost 28,000 students. 28,000! Each and every one of these students comes from a diverse set of backgrounds, traditions, beliefs and cultures. They have passions, ambitions and, as a whole, a huge deposit of knowledge that is readily available to be shared. And these habits of wanting to know, to understand, to be CURIOUS, begin here in college. So, what can we do then to begin this life of inspiring curiosity within ourselves and to those around us?

It begins with our mindset. When we adjust our frame of mind from seeing someone for who they are because of the way they dress, the way the act or even the way they talk, to a mindset of being genuinely curious and asking why, we develop new perspectives and understandings about them.

Again, this frame of mind applies not just to people but also to almost every aspect of our lives including ideologies, career aspirations and academics. When we are able to change our frame of mind and apply it to all areas of our lives, we begin to ask questions that stem from our own hunger and desire to learn. There is an urgency to answer the question, why, and a pursuit to become almost child-like where we continuously prod and poke until we are satisfied with what we have heard, seen, tasted, felt or even smelled.

This idea of living curiously enables all of us to share stories, lessons and thoughts without having to feel judged or reserved. It’s about building a community where everyone is eager to learn, understand and feel inspired.

As college students, we aren’t restricted to a 40-hour work schedule or family responsibilities. We have the freedom to do what we want with our time and to develop habits that we can utilize in the “real” world. As a senior finishing up my last quarter, I can’t help but reflect on my time here as an undergraduate and the common theme that has remained constant throughout all the things I have been blessed to be involved in.

This idea of being constantly and genuinely curious has truly enriched my collegiate experience through the people I have met, the stories I have heard, the places I have traveled and the memories I will cherish for a lifetime. It’s become a daily habit, to ask questions and go to the deeper level to understand why people or things are the way that they are. It’s an adage that will be on my mind as I transition to a different world outside of UCI where a plethora of interesting people, places, beliefs, await me.

My encounter with Andy was a choice. It was a choice to follow my curiosity and learn his story. There are many Andys out there. For you, Andy could be the person who sits next to you on the shuttle. Andy could be a place. Andy could be a profession. So next time, (it could even be right now) you feel even the tiniest urge of curiosity, be bold, cast your doubts aside, and take action to answer those questions.

Albert Liao is a fourth-year economics major. He can be reached at  liaoa@uci.edu.