A red and blue blanket with a sign inviting people to have a conversation with a stranger can usually be found near the cherry blossom trees in Aldrich Park on Monday – Thursday from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m.
This stranger is second-year civil engineering student Nikko De Castro.
Each conversation De Castro has with people is different, ranging from friendship issues to religious ideologies. He enjoys having conversations with the strangers that approach his blanket; he wants to help people take a break from the hustle and bustle of college life.
“[Park talks] invites people to just take a break from their normal routine and the day-by-day of studying, grinding, midterms; stuff like that, just to talk with someone they don’t know,” De Castro said.
According to De Castro, the conversations get deep pretty quickly. “I actually enjoy those kinds of conversations because it’s not like small talk or anything. I’m okay with [that], but I’d rather [have] more authentic conversations,” he said.
He feels that it is easier to talk to a stranger about certain issues than it is to a friend or family member, which is why conversation topics tend to vary.
“It’s a wide range of topics, that’s the whole point, talking to strangers… when you talk to your friends you talk about certain things, when you talk to your parents talk about certain things,” De Castro said. “When you talk to a stranger what do you talk about? I don’t know, anything you’re comfortable with sharing.”
De Castro was inspired to start park talks following a mission trip in Boston that he took last summer. He wants to honor God through these talks; his goal is to make people feel understood by alleviating loneliness.
“I started park talks because I kind of had a conviction that loneliness is a big thing in college,” De Castro said. “I believe that in order to stop loneliness, a person needs to be known, the person cannot be known if there’s no other person to let them be known.”
De Castro said that he tries to gauge when it is appropriate to discuss religion and when it is not. As a Christian, he feels like it is his job to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it isn’t necessarily the intention behind these talks.
“When it comes to deep questions, I think religion is naturally in that kind of section of conversation…I don’t purposely do it, but when I feel like it can be interesting,” De Castro said, “I try to [spread the gospel] but there’s also a balance, maybe someone doesn’t need the gospel right then and there, they just need someone to talk to and someone to listen.”
Most conversations last 20 – 40 minutes, during which De Castro does his best to maintain a good conversation with those who sit with him on his blanket.
“I just tried focusing more on where my heart’s at when talking with [strangers] and having a good conversation,” De Castro said.
Laiyla Santillan is a Campus News Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.