Forming Friendships While Studying Abroad

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In 2019, there seem to be only a handful of opportunities to truly connect with people outside of the internet and social media sphere. When you’re forced to put your phone down and spend hours with a group of random strangers, you feel a human connection that is unfortunately becoming more obsolete in a technical and fast-paced world. On our study abroad spring break trip to Chile, these strangers became my good friends.

Having previously studied abroad for a semester in 2013 with an awesome group of students to Thailand, I knew the benefits of these types of trips. Those friends you make will eventually disperse and go back to their hometown across the country, perhaps across the globe, and you find yourself able to visit them in corners of the world you may never have expected to go. Making friends with locals while traveling can be just as rewarding, maybe even more so. The Chileans we met were so welcoming and always wanted to be helpful. This was an indicator of their polychronic societal beliefs: they are committed to human relationships and have strong tendencies to build lifetime relationships. Polychronic people will go out of their way for people, even if they are strangers they are treated like family. By the end of the week, I was messaging multiple locals on Whatsapp to make plans for the evening, and had multiple invitations to parties or house gatherings. It was extremely easy to feel like I was a part of their culture in Santiago, even if I wasn’t the best Spanish speaker.

On the first day in Santiago, I met our tour guide who goes by JT. Although he was similar in age, initially we may have had literally nothing else in common. A small question really got him talking. “What does your shirt mean?” I asked him, hopeful that the English writing on the back was something of significance to him. “It’s an American band, do you know them? Do you like to listen to music?” We began discussing our favorite bands, concerts, and festivals and the differences in Chile’s music and the United States’ music. Next thing you know, we made plans to go to Lollapalooza or another festival together someday. It can truly be as easy as having one thing in common to feel like you really know a person’s intentions and passions.

Although the United States is considered a monochronic society, I would place myself in the latter category. Chile is the 33rd country I’ve visited in my short lifetime, and I feel as though I have a lot of travel experience because of how frequently I go abroad. Perhaps it is because I was one of the older students on the trip, but I truly wanted to make use of every moment in Chile to get to know the locals and my peers alike, often sacrificing hours of sleep in order to do so during those 8 incredible days. I found a core group of classmates to hit the town with, and knew from the start that they were living by the “when in Chile” motto just as much as I was. I believe these people will remain my friends for a long time.

In particular, I was more interested in cruising around the city on a Lime scooter than anyone else in my friend group, but they went along with the idea. Our phones didn’t have data so I went on Verizon’s website and signed myself up for an international plan so I could use mine. I hot spotted all of their phones one night as we went walking around looking for scooters for each of us. I could feel a bit of hesitation from a few friends who were nervous about riding them, but soon enough they were speeding through our neighborhood, Las Condes with ease. Under the full moon, we rode around for a half-hour, howling and yipping, feeling as free as birds. After a night of drinking and clubbing, this was a sober one, with a sobering realization that we were indeed great friends who could make a fun night out of anything together.

My advice to all who are considering studying abroad is to just do it. Yes, it comes with a price tag and a long flight. Sure, it can be scary to take that step by yourself. Life is meant to be lived, and not in a small bubble. Do as much as you can to assimilate with a new place and you will learn so much more about yourself and the world in the process.