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Friends with Benefits: Sustaining Your Study Abroad Friendships
It was a typically cold Scottish night and there were eight of us squeezed together around a table at the pub. It happened to be a disco-themed music night, and the lights of the disco ball reflected off our laughing faces. We’d decided to play a game of “pass on the dance move” where one person would perform a move and then pass it on so that it continually progressed around the table. The waving of our arms and bobbing of our heads lacked any sort of choreography, but we didn’t mind. It was enjoying each other’s company that mattered the most.
This memory is one of many I have from the friendships I formed while studying abroad. Like many students that return home from living out of the country for an extended period, these nostalgic moments are to be expected. They creep up on you when you least expect it; a smell, a familiar song, a sudden case of déjà vu—the triggers are everywhere. It was only after I traveled and lived in a new country that I came to realize how unique study abroad friendships are. You’re thrown into a situation with individuals who feel exactly like you do: alone and foreign in a new place, you may not be able to speak the language, you don’t know anybody yet and there is so much you’re unsure of. It’s overwhelming at first, but it is these ties to each other that turn people you’ve only known for three or four months into some of the best friends you’ll ever have.
These unforgettable friendships are also a big reason in why it’s so hard to return home. Whether it’s having to watch friends leave or saying goodbye when you’re the one departing, there are usually tears aplenty. I don’t think I even went to bed the night before I flew home from my study abroad program in Scotland. Like a much cheesier version of Aerosmith’s song, I was determined not to miss a thing.
Of course, the constant reminiscing can be depressing and make it difficult to enjoy living in the moment. It’s not an unavoidable fate, though. Making an effort to sustain your friendships after you’ve returned home is a much better option. It makes the transition and re-entry shock that much easier, and keeps those close-knit friendships from turning into a vague memory.
The concept of ‘friends with benefits’ takes on a whole new meaning when it comes to study abroad; these are the people with whom you’ve shared all sorts of adventures and formed lasting bonds with. Making an effort to stay in touch despite the distance will guarantee the ‘benefits’ continue for years to come. Here are a few of my personal favorite ways to making sure that no amount of miles comes between me and those I miss the most.
1. Nothing Says I Miss You Like a Good Letter – Email and social networks make it easier than ever to stay connected, but sometimes they lack that personal touch. If you really want to express your feelings, share a mutual memory, or simply send birthday wishes, why not take the time to write out a letter or card? Sure, it takes longer to arrive, but who doesn’t love receiving “snail mail?” Not only will it demonstrate how much you care about that person, but it also allows for a measure of creativity. For me, it’s all about the wax seals. Call me old-fashioned, but a letter just doesn’t look the same without one.
2. Schedule a “Date” – Communicate with your friends and schedule times to meet up online, if you can. When you can’t head down to the pub together for a pint, there’s no better way to catch up face-to-face than over a Skype “date” or video call (and you can bring your own wine!). Making time for those moments will keep you up to date on what’s going on in your friend’s lives, with the added option of commenting about their latest haircut choice. If you’re a bad liar, I’d suggest avoiding that particular topic.
3. Have Friends, Will Travel – Got a serious case of itchy feet combined with travel bug? With all your friends spread across the world (or wherever they may be) you have all the motivation you need to start making new travel plans. Desperately missing the company of your closest friends only makes it easier to plan these trips. Why wait for a high school reunion to take place, when you could be planning a study abroad reunion? It will strengthen the friendships and make the fear of “long distance” a thing of the past. Friendship has always been a two-way street—so what are you waiting for? Grab your passport and hit the road.