When traveling abroad, one of the most fulfilling experiences is developing friendships. But the friendships you form abroad can look different from what you expect.
In 2011, the United Nations proclaimed July 30th as “International Day of Friendship.” The resolution emphasizes the involvement of young people as leaders to help promote friendships between countries, people, and individuals as a means to “inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.” That sounds a lot like our work at Cultural Vistas…
In honor of the five-year anniversary of this resolution, I sought out stories of friendship from our own exchange program alumni. Below are some of my favorite anecdotes.
Friendship knows no language barriers.
This anecdote comes from Megan Bradford, 2015 Cultural Vistas Fellowship alumna, living and working with her fellow peers in Bangalore, India. The photo was taken during a trip to the southern east coast of India.
“This is my new friend from England speaking in French to an Indian man in Pondicherry. It’s crazy how many connections you can make when you start talking to people. And she got to test out driving the auto rickshaw.”
Sometimes, you don’t need to speak a common language at all.
“This little boy didn’t speak English and started off afraid of us. By the end, he was directing and starring in phone videos with us. We didn’t have to speak a single word to make a new friend.”
Friendship knows no nationality.
During her 2015 Korea WEST experience, Eunsol Lee made it a point to interact with and befriend a lot of different people. The photo below is from a day trip to Sleepy Hollow, New York.
“If someone asks me what [is] the best thing [that] ever happened to me while I was in the U.S. is, I would say “friends!”
We have all different nationalities which are Korean, Spanish, Colombian, and [Cypriot]. However, different nationalities were not a problem at all to have such a genuine friendship…The best memories in the U.S. [were] always with these friends.”
Andrea Kunza, a 2015 alumna of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), had a chance to explore a painful part of European history while living and working in Germany.
“During the language school phase of my CBYX program Am Bodensee in Germany I was able to form a life-changing friendship with this couple from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. As an American with a strong Croatian heritage, this was a unique opportunity to discuss politics, religion, and ethnic divisions – but more importantly, it was an opportunity to focus on how much we have in common.”
Friendship knows no age difference.
James Marsh is a 2010-2011 Alfa Fellowship alum from the United Kingdom. His friendship with a neighbor, Tyotya (“Aunt”) Masha, began with a housewarming gift after he moved in: a lemon.
“Tyotya Masha…became my very best friend in the city. At first, she was extremely shy. [Each] weekend, the doorbell would ring, I would open up and she would dart into my apartment to deliver me a plate of hot borsht, and then just as swiftly disappear. Gradually, however, conversations began to take place. And over the course of several months, our conversations evolved into ritualised Sunday afternoon teas, which generally meant a lavish dinner for me, sitting in her small kitchen under the picture of Marshall Zhukov and eating meat cutlets, homemade sauerkraut, gherkins, and lapyoshki.
Tyotya Masha was 84 years old when I met her. Yet her memory was astonishing. Sometimes we would sit in the dusk of her kitchen and drink cognac, and if she felt like it, she would sing folk songs or Soviet romances by heart, with a soft, old voice. Or she would recite stanza after stanza of Nekrasov or Pushkin, never failing once for a word. Her hobbies were her kitchen and political discussions. During the ten or so months I lived next door to her, she seemed constantly to be in the middle of writing a letter to Medvedev. In my last week, she finally sent this missal – an angry complaint at the state of our back courtyard, and a petition to pull down some sheds that had sprung up illegally and to replace them with a children’s play-park and garden.
Listening to her was like reading a history book, but so much more vivid. She was of peasant stock, her grandfather had been a village priest, she remembered how the marriages of young daughters were arranged by the men-folk over a wooden table and a mug of beer, she remembered having shoes made from tree bark, and how once, as an eleven-year-old, she swam across the river Don and afterwards encountered the wrath of her mother.”
Friendship knows no religion.
A 2014 Korea WEST alumna, Yehyun Kim, spent her time in the U.S. exploring different cultures and learning about different religions.
“[During my time in the U.S.,] I share[d] many things with my new best friend who converted to [Islam]. We went volunteering for a Korean festival. I learn[ed] a lot about Muslim culture and [broke] my stereotypes.”
Friendship knows no socio-economic background.
This story comes from Ben Schindler, a 2015 Train USA J-1 Internship participant.
“The New Yorker running to catch the train, tourist rushing from attraction to attraction and in-between the poor, the homeless, the forgotten talents. They sing, they play instruments, they support the latest conspiracy theories or they just sit and wait. One of them is Michel, 32 years old. He sits in front of Starbucks and he sings songs of the past century mostly blues and soul. One day he looked up noticing my colorful coat he started to sing about it. Every other day he would notice me when I gave him a dollar or two and would start the song. Since then we have had many coffees in bakeries and coffee shops…Now Michel, with all his stories is a great companion for me. I feel incredibly lucky my life has been protected by wonderful parents, friends who helped me stay on a good path and gave a balance where needed. Michel, on some point of his life didn’t have that, his life turned and suddenly the roof collapsed over his head.
Meeting Michel has changed my view on New York. Michel has taught me a great deal about how positive I should be about my life. And most importantly he shows me how important it is to connect with the people who have nothing…”
And sometimes, friendship inspires the poet in you!
This final contribution comes from Lisa Panzerbieter, another 2015 alumna of the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals (CBYX), but based in the United States.
“Vietnam, Ukraine, Germany