The Curious Process of Making Friends Abroad

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Making new friends has never been my strong suit. As an introverted person, I have a hard time approaching strangers for anything, let alone to build some sort of companionship. Of course, going to college has helped make me a little more comfortable around people I don’t know, but I would by no means say I’m good at meeting new people.

Thus, you could imagine the nerves I had traveling by myself to another country where I was expected to live, study, and yes—make friends—for an entire semester. I really had no idea what to expect when I arrived in France, let alone how to approach building friendships. The idea seemed even more daunting than it had when I was a freshman, arriving at Rhodes for the first time.

Yet this situation proved to be entirely different than the one faced by 18-year-old me. Whereas some students at Rhodes were attending a school in the city in which they’d lived their entire lives, with some of the people with which they’d attended school for years, everyone in my study abroad program was facing something utterly new. Each of us had arrived in a foreign country, where we only somewhat spoke the language. All of us were thousands of miles from home, from friends, from comfort.

I shouldn’t have been as stressed as I was about making friends abroad because really, it just sort of… happened.

We gravitated towards each other out of a sense of necessity and a recognition that we were all here alone, but we didn’t want to stay alone. We had no idea if we would have been friends had we met on our home campuses; we barely even knew each other’s full names. But we did know that we were all scared by and excited for the months to come. We knew that we seemed to laugh at the same things, that we wanted to travel to the same places, and that the next four months would be extremely lonely without one another. And that was good enough for us.

The friendships I’ve made abroad are entirely different from any of the ones I’ve made at home or at school. My friends and I have seen each other through all kinds of new situations, when we are so far out of our comfort zones, it feels like we’ll never make our way back into it. We know how we behave early in the morning and late at night, on an empty stomach and on a full one. We know each other’s habits, our taste in music, movies, and food. We know what nine hours worth of train rides does to us, whose passport photo looks the least like them now, and how many days we can consecutively spend together before going a little mad.

While these may have started as friendships of necessity, they became much more than that. I can’t imagine having to leave my friends come the end of May. But I know we will find our way back to one another in the future. After all, with whom else would I reminisce about my time abroad?

This post was contributed by Makenna Brandt, a student from Rhodes College who is spending her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in Grenoble, France.

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