Finding and Keeping Friends While Abroad

Me, Monse, and Saira at their Alpha Gamma Phi formal last year.

We all know about Hope culture, and the Hope “Hi!” It was one of the things that attracted me to Hope when I was a senior in college. I knew it was the right environment for me and because of it, I made so many friends just that way. But being abroad is a completely different atmosphere, especially when you’re in a program with students from all over the country, different backgrounds, levels of maturity, school culture, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made friends here despite its difficulty, but it’s still not the same as having the people that I have spent the last 2 and half years getting to know at Hope.

In a study abroad program, you find that in the first few days everyone is in survival mode, literally. It’s like freshman year, but the pressure is kicked up because you are tired from jet lag, being in an unknown place/culture, meeting new people, possibly speaking or using a new language, and ultimately, you are stressing out. I had a strategy from day one; be kind to everyone, if you find a small connection see it out, and trust your gut. There’s plenty of studies that tell you that in a matter of seconds you have already made your judgment about a person you meet for the first time. Often, it’s used to talk about job interviews and how you should dress for them, but I think it can also be applied to the way you live and choose friends. No, you can’t know everything about a person in a matter of seconds, but people definitely show you who they are deep down in small instances from the time you meet them. We all have gut reactions to people and our bodies pick up on it way before our mind usually does, in my experience. I mean, I know what it feels like to really want a person in my life, I describe it as a warm glowy feeling that just makes you light up. This is then amplified as you begin to get to know the person and they affirm your feelings with actions that build trust. So this was my strategy. Who do I trust?

At the beginning, it was easiest to try this with my housemates, but as you know that didn’t turn out the way I had hoped and I knew it was best for me to leave the situation. However, there have been some consistent characters in my study abroad experience. Those people over time have showed me that I can trust them, and gave me some hint of a glowy feeling. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes people give off signs that they don’t mean to emit. I would say two of the people I trust the most in this program were not showing their true selves in our first encounter, but over the course of the program and multiple encounters, I’ve found them to be the people who help me keep my sanity as a person of color in this program. As you might guess, they are also people of color and we share the experience of being minorities within a minority while studying abroad in Spain. We are able to build trust and our relationship over that shared experience and others that we go through as students in PWIs (predominately white institutions) in the US. If you think about it in another way, it’s the thing that makes us feel most alone in the world that brought us together and gave us a deeper connection. In that way, I am grateful for the experiences I had at the beginning of the program that were not so genuine because its made me go out of my way to find the right people for me and my study abroad experience.

About two months ago, I was really feeling that loneliness kick in. I was the only person of color in my apartment and most of the students were not understanding. Of those who were, they offered minimum support. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, I had already been in contact with program directors about what I was experiencing and it helped me change my environment. Although, what really helped me was my internship. I’ve made so many friends of color in Madrid from various ethnicities, nationalities, and ages. It’s made my experience richer in ways that the average study abroad student might have to fight for a connection so profound. I remember praying on a day that I didn’t have classes, I was affirming the idea that what is meant for me, God will bring it into my life. From that day on, I met new people of color each day, specifically African Americans and Latinos who are either studying abroad or teaching abroad. It made me feel like I finally was out of the minority ad, if anything, casted into a positive and affirming space that gave me time to reflect on my experience from a non-white perspective/narrative. I felt free.

Although I’ve made great connections here, at the end of the day, I still miss my friends from back home. Those are the people who were there for me during some of the hardest times of my young adult life. Love has always been an interesting concept to me and a feeling I didn’t truly understand, but this experience abroad has definitely helped me sort through the complexities of this feeling. Love takes trust and trust takes love. I trust the people that I’ve developed deep and honest relationships with from Hope, and it’s made me love them for the support they continue to give me even while I’m abroad. I will say the drawback is that I can’t see them when I want or share this amazing experience with them in the same way that I can with my new friends here. However, their love for me and mine for them is felt across the big blue pond that separates us. The friends that I felt the greatest connection with are the ones who are easiest to stay in contact with and it says a lot about our feelings toward our friendship. It has shown me who I care about most and who cares about me.

To my friends who are reading this, thank you for being here for me. I’m grateful for having you in my life and our senior year is gonna be amazing! I hope you all have a great summer 🙂

 

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