There are many wonderful things about traveling and living abroad. I think this website displays sufficient evidence to that effect. Each article, whether dispatched from Kenya or from London or from Peru, bears witness to the unique privilege afforded to those who are able to enjoy the rewardingly challenging experience of living, traveling, working or studying in a country that is not their own.
I’d like to add a piece of evidence to this delightful list. It’s a simple thesis. The experience of living in a foreign land presents a unique opportunity for one to meet and get to know people who you would not otherwise have encountered.
I’m not what you’d call a ‘people person.’ I am generally rather reserved and tend to stick to a small core group of friends. ‘Social butterfly’ is also not featured in my self-descriptive vocabulary. I don’t consider myself shy, but neither am I outgoing, I’m somewhere in the ambiguous middle ground between the two.
Given this healthy dose of reserve, when I thought about travelling, I generally thought almost exclusively about gorgeous landscapes, big cities, train schedules, packing lists, cultural experiences. ‘Meeting new people’ lurked somewhere in the middle of my travel priorities. The prospect of new friends always seemed to fade in confrontation with the prospect of Paris, London, Rome and the rest.
And yet, here I am reconsidering the middle-of-the-pack status of one particular benefit of international travel. In my personal estimation of things, ‘making friends’ has finally taken its rightful place alongside things ‘exploring new places’, ‘trying new foods’ as a truly wonderful aspect of this experience.
What’s so great about the relationships built in the context of international travel is that they are often unlike friendships brought about by unique circumstances. Examples of just such serendipitous encounters have seemed to crop up on an almost daily basis since I’ve arrived in Fribourg.
Tomorrow I’m heading to the Cailler chocolate factory with my aunt and uncle’s babysitter who is taking time off to travel through Europe, the week after that I’m spending a few days in Paris with one of my best friends’ friend who is studying abroad in France.
A week or so ago I got a wonderful care package from my cousin’s cousin who lived in Berlin last year and has therefore been a great source of advice and counsel in planning and executing my own year abroad.
Earlier this month I met for coffee with a Swiss girl who is the niece of a woman that my mom met in a book club in Toledo, Ohio.
At the end of this month I’ll be finally meeting in person with my lifelong penpal who lives in the Netherlands.
All of this, and that’s not even including the international crowd of people I’ve met right here in Fribourg–people from a host of nations including the US, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Colombia, Italy, Germany, and of course Switzerland–have been instrumental in enriching my everyday life here in Fribourg.
I may not be a ‘social butterfly’ or even a ‘people person’, but I cannot deny the supreme pleasure of an unexpected and serendipitous rendezvous. ‘Meeting new people’ now officially holds a place at the top of my list of the very best things about living abroad.