Tag Archives: friendship

A Case for Short-Term Friendships

Before my study abroad program, I had always taken pride in the idea that I could both adapt to and eventually leave any given environment easily without any sense of loss or regret. This is because I have moved a lot during the past several years. And moving so much forced me to develop a passive character that did not necessarily reject close connections, but was resigned to the belief that close friendships do not last forever.

This frame of mind has honestly helped me look towards the future as I have said goodbye to different chapters and people in my life. However, I have to admit that it has become increasingly more difficult for me to do this. And the end of the first session of my program here in Germany has been my biggest feat to date.

 

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Ashley, Victoria, and I decided to break out of routine of classes and go explore more of our beautiful host city.

 

My program is split into two summer sessions, 5 weeks each. I am among the 20 or so students who are enrolled for all 10 weeks. I was aware of this when I arrived but I did not think that I would develop substantial friendships during a short study abroad program. I knew that I would meet interesting people and maybe become friends with a few but I did not anticipate meeting so many amazing individuals. Individuals that I will not have the pleasure of associating with when I return to the United States because we all go to different schools in different states.

 

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The beginning of the second session was filled with sad goodbyes. The only silver lining was having the opportunity to connect with the new students and explore Berlin with Michaela and Ben, pictured here.

 

Saying goodbye to friends who left Germany after the first summer session was very difficult because I had somehow found people who I instantly connected with on deep level. I found people who were willing to have difficult, sometimes controversial discussions, in an intellectual and empathetic manner. I found people who were willing to laugh at themselves, people who saw the value in sitting down and having a conversation with someone who is nothing like you. I found people who embody attributes that I strive to have.

Saying goodbye to them and knowing that I would most likely never see them again was hard to swallow. I honestly spent days afterwards regretting not saying yes to certain outings and travel opportunities. But thankfully after moping around, I soon began to appreciate the short time that I had with them. I realized that I was lucky to have had any time with them because our paths would never have crossed if we had not enrolled in the same program.

 

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Standing in this cramped (but huge) elevator with about 30 other students was the first time the reality of our fateful yet limited time together really hit me.

 

As I collected my emotions, I began to remember the moments that characterized my friendships with them. I remembered the five minute to hour long conversations. I remembered the excitement we shared together when we tried new cuisines or explored new cities. I remembered how we confided in each other during times of uncertainty. And I remembered so much more that made me happy for our time together, regardless of how short it was.

To add a relief from my self-introspection, I’ll talk a little bit about the people I said goodbye to:

 

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Long train rides would have been terrible without these two (Ashley and Victoria) to talk to. And also Charlotte who is not pictured.

 

The laughing, fiery red-head girl to the right in the picture above is Victoria. Victoria and I had no classes together, our paths rarely crossed and we could have easily missed each other on a daily basis. Yet, we became very close. I credit our initial interaction to the fact that we both have a dark sense of humor that is lost on most people. My favorite moments of the first session of my program were spent with her. Previously, I had never met anyone who was so self-aware. We would sit for hours to talk about everything and nothing. The fact that she was so open and willing to struggle through theories and ideas with me (and anyone) was the reason we bonded so quickly and so closely.

 

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Taken on the first day of our program’s week in Berlin. This day also marked the start of a beautiful friendship with the two women pictured, Abra and Sam.

 

The two women pictured above are Abra and Sam. We sadly did not get to know each other very well until their last days in Germany. But those 3 days were enough to create memories that will stay with me for a very long time. Our most memorable time together was when we ventured to visit what’s left of the Berlin Wall. Berlin is not an easy place to navigate through without a guide so we had to rely on each other’s wits to get us through the city.  After walking through and experiencing something of that magnitude, we sat down for what is to date the most delicious meal I have ever had, and talked about everything and nothing over dinner.

The final profile I’ll share is of the smiling young woman in the picture below.

 

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I made her stand and smile because I mischievously wanted a picture of the two performers behind her without having to pay. It turned out to be a pretty great picture that shows how much fun we had that day.

 

In 6 weeks, I had only talked to Tana about 2 or 3 times. Our paths never really crossed, at least not until I answered her general request for someone to accompany her to the Lüneburg City festival. We then spent the rest of the day and part of the next morning together just having fun and getting to know each other. Our day together was the first time that I really thought of the notion of a short-term friendship. Because we both knew that day was our one and only chance to bond.

Saying goodbye to these people and the prospect of saying goodbye to more in the coming weeks is sad. But these individuals (and many others not mentioned) have expanded my life perspective in ways I will carry with me forever.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe

Friendship Meets Public Transport

MICRO [mee-croh]: the word Chileans use for city buses.

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The famed Chilean micro.

 

By the time I’ve consumed my breakfast of toasted bread, avocado, and tea (which I´ve had for breakfast every day since living with my family in Chile and still LOVE), I am rushing to catch my micro. I flag down a micro by sticking my arm out, kind of like the New Yorkers do in movies when they flag taxis. However, I am from Wisconsin where cows are more populous than taxis, so this action is merely an imitation.

The micro is pulling away before I’m barely in the door with my sack lunch and backpack (normal). The driver hands me change before I give him my fare I had been clutching (not normal). Someone before me had forgotten their change and it seems I am the accidental recipient. I take a seat and try to gauge my guilt of now possessing someone else’s pesos.

A middle-aged man with a large belly and a small tambourine-like instrument gets on shortly after and takes a seat in the back. He begins to sing, more of a beautiful bellow actually, and plays his tambourine/drum as I try to decipher some of the Spanish he’s singing. It’s not yet noon and I am looking at the ocean outside the micro window, listening to “live music” from my fellow passenger. Living in a country where I feel frustrated by the language barrier in simple conversations at many times, and where buying dinner sometimes involves more anxiety than it should, doesn’t always leave one feeling their strongest. But it’s the tiny eccentricities like this tambourine man that leave me with a ridiculous amount of silly-drunken happiness.

I would consider myself a minorly anxious person before traveling, but being in a place where you feel like you have a large sticker on your forehead that says “I’M NOT FROM HERE!” makes you think about everything way more than you should. The rest of the micro ride I can’t stop worrying about how to give my guilt change to this tambourine man with all of the people standing in the aisle. But mostly I’m just very content with the music. The music reminds me of how much of a monumental commitment I’ve made by studying abroad in Chile for a few months.

I get off the micro at my stop feeling like a failure but also thinking about how many Super 8’s (see photo below) I can buy with my change.

 

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The Super 8 is a classic treat here in Chile. Sold on micros, streets, and in every supermarket and minimarket. Think Nutty Bar and Kit Kat. Addicting and delicious.

 

Then tambourine man gets off the micro too and I put my change in his upside down tambourine more eagerly than I should (“I’M NOT FROM HERE!”). I wait to cross the street and he appears next to me.  I try to study him casually but he appears to be doing the same to me. I’m painfully aware of the opportunity for conversation but am frozen because I’m still in a stage where I forget I speak Spanish upon contact with other Spanish-speakers. This is partially exaggerated for humor but also a very real part of study abroad. I panic and forget I have the capacity, knowledge, and strength to communicate. It’s very intimidating but I try to engage in conversation with him, and it was well worth the fear and insecurity.

He says something to me in rapid Spanish that I must have answered correctly because he doesn’t give up and he doesn’t laugh. We’re walking past empanada stands and a man selling books and ice cream, and we’re talking and I’m understanding a stranger’s Spanish and feeling pretty okay about myself. We talk about music and dancing and salsa and exchange names. He tells me he plays salsa music too. We are both delighted to have this simple conversation and I’m suddenly convinced that this is what humanity is about. I feel my best when I’m meeting new people to share the experience of life with. I often wonder which parts of life I should place more time and attention to (homework, social justice, figuring out my career track among one day raising children, earning a living, etc). Maybe the answers are in Chile. More likely though, there are no answers, only possibilities and that itself is a scary, overwhelming thought. But those possibilities are something that joins all of us together, no matter where you call home. Even tambourine-playing Jon and gringa Natalie.

He walks me the rest of the way to school and I kiss him the customary air kiss goodbye- “besitos!” I’ll probably never see that man again, but I know I had a better day and a more positive outlook because of meeting him and I have a strong feeling he did too. It’s not a lifelong friendship, but we boost each other up in the smallest of actions.

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Filed under Natalie in Chile, south america

Being LGBTQ in Japan

Being a part of the LGBTQ community in any country gives you a little extra nervousness whenever making new friends. Japan is no different, and it also gives a little extra element of nervousness due to the fact that you don’t really know how the people in your age group will react when you tell them this little piece of information. So far, the Japanese friends that I’ve made and told this to react with shock and surprise. To be honest, they have had a very different reaction than the people who I’ve told back in America. I still find it a little awkward when telling someone here because I’m used to my sexuality not being a big of a deal to anyone. Being Pansexual is not really a concept that people even in America can fully understand or distinguish between Bisexuality. Trying to communicate this kind of difference in Japanese usually doesn’t work too well, so I’ve had to mostly say that I’m bisexual to my friends if/when I tell them. It’s kind of awkward having to change my sexuality label just so I can get people to understand that I’m not straight, but the language barrier definitely rears its ugly head in this situation. Yet, even after the initial shock, none of my friends or anyone else that I’ve told about my sexuality have ever been rude or demeaning in any way. In fact, they seem extremely curious and interested in learning more about my life and views on relationships and my background. It makes me actually really happy in a way that I can’t describe well, but it gives me a lot of hope for the LGBTQ community slowly becoming more accepted in the younger generations here.

You honestly don’t really hear anything about the LGBTQ community here in everyday conversation or on the news. There’s a small part of one of the areas on Shinjuku called Ni-Chome that is known to be the gay district full of bars, clubs and also some prostitution, and it’s seen as being pretty scandalous to go to that area unless you’re with a tour group. So, I haven’t really gotten a chance to try to integrate into the community here and I honestly don’t know if I ever will.

When I first lived abroad about three years ago, I was very shy about my sexuality and was definitely still closeted, but living in a different country gives you a lot of insight into the fact that “norms” with anything (especially when it comes to notions on sexuality) isn’t really something that’s cross culturally applicable. My time abroad has given me so much confidence in knowing who I am as a person, and in turn given me so much pride for the community that I represent. And, even being in a situation now where I may feel uncomfortable at times about how people react to a part of me, it’s actually done nothing except made me more proud of the fact that I call myself something other than heterosexual and it’s made me realize that the United States maybe isn’t as bad overall as some make it seem when it comes to accepting people in the LGBTQ community.

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Filed under East Asia, Stephanie in Japan, Uncategorized

Me in Your Life, You in Mine

I used to aim to gain everyone’s friendship by focusing on people-pleasing in order to be liked by all with whom I interacted with. Please don’t let my use of the past tense mislead you into thinking that I stopped this empty act a long time ago. College and particularly my experience in Russia are truly helping me understand the type of people that gain my respect and admiration, and subsequently the people that later become my inspiration. I have learned that when you let people see the raw you, deep and powerful connections can occur, which can further change your demeanor for the better.

As a child and a young adult, I have been in many situations where I have felt left out or simply like I did not fit in. Whether it was the outcome of a language barrier or not being able to afford the clothes that were in style, I frequently have felt like an outsider. I would later develop the opinion that being uncommon is quite interesting in a society that is obsessed with social media “likes” and “comments” of positive affirmation. Again, please don’t be fooled, I too enjoy the notifications and virtual positivity that appear on my Facebook and Instagram. I just want to highlight that how we portray ourselves in these mediums should truly be how we identify ourselves.

Whenever I exercise my freedom of posting photos, I am reminded that people on the opposite end scrolling on their phones will start to create their own identity of me in their minds based on what they see. That is why I only post whatever I truly identify with and am aware of the possible interpretations that others may have. We can’t fully control other people’s understanding of us, but we can prevent our online identity from transcending our real identity. That is, we can continue posting photos of our food and friends, but at one point, this medium can make our names into their own artificial brand. As long as you prove that you are more than what your online identity says you are, then I am not worried about the effects of social media.

What is even greater than a “like” on a photo is a real life friendship. Friends in real life offer their love and cherish us for who we are. In Russia, I have allowed myself to fall with grace into the generous and welcoming arms of those that I have learned to call my friends. I didn’t just take a wrong turn and become close with strangers… Well I kind of did, but there was more effort than that.

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Here is a representation of the merging of my virtual identity with my true identity, a photo of my dear friend Katya and I.

While attending a ballet at the Mikhailovsky Theater (an event that left me stunned by its beauty) I noticed a fashionable girl next to me dressed in a deep red skirt that easily could have been worn to a red carpet event. I didn’t realize that offering my compliment would lead to the blossoming of a new friendship in Russia. Katya has made St. Petersburg a home for me.

Katya volunteers at my institute, St. Petersburg State University, where she communicates with Americans in Russian, organizes excursions for us, and more than that offers her genuine kindness and help.

Although it was a random compliment that got us talking, it was later the mutual sharing of our insecurities, our social anxieties, and our inner struggles that would bring us so close. Perhaps we could agree that it isn’t the perfection or whatever we advertise on Instagram or Facebook that draws us to one another. Instead it is our common interests, struggles, and ultimately the energy that we exude.

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Filed under Boryana in Russia, Eastern Europe

Friends Taking the Shock Out of Culture

My first couple of weeks trying to manage what I will call my new and transformational “Chinese life” definitely presented some difficulties. Months before I even thought about how everything was going to work out abroad, I heard the term “culture shock” at my university’s study abroad orientation. It seems that in many people’s minds culture shock is some mystical, fairytale-esque concept, or that it’s your immediate reaction to a new place when you first arrive. This term was briefly discussed during the orientation for my program, and I overheard several students sort of laugh away the significance of it. To put it simply, culture shock develops this way: once you enter your new surroundings, you’re in a “honeymoon” state, everything is wonderful and unfamiliar, for a while it feels like you’re the star of some kind of movie.

My motion picture included sign upon sign that reeked of bad translation, my running theory is these places pay someone to just run their shop’s name through some mediocre translating software.

My motion picture included sign upon sign that reeked of bad translation, my running theory is these places pay someone to just run their shop’s name through some mediocre translating software.

As time goes on it fades and gradually you start to feel uncomfortable and extremely out of place (in China, where everyone save a small percentage are ethnically Chinese, this feeling comes extremely quickly), and you start to miss the little things your home has that your new home doesn’t. I’m here to tell you that during my first “transitional” few weeks, I was a prime example of this stage of culture shock. I’ve never been in a city as large as Kunming, and my biggest distress was that I felt like a grain of sand on this huge beach I didn’t understand. Slowly but surely this started to fade away as my relationship with my classmates and my roommate improved. So far the person that I appreciate the most is my roommate. Here’s a short breakdown of how I got my roommate: CET Academic Programs, the organization that is in charge of my program, gives each one of us a Chinese roommate in order to foster our language abilities, as well as give us a chance to intimately know a Chinese person and how they live their lives day by day. My roommate had to apply and be interviewed, and is given strict instructions to not speak English at all with me. That being said, even though at times I fear our communication is poor due to the language barrier, he’s become one of my best friends so far. The most interesting thing about our friendship to me is the fact that we’re constantly exchanging cultural information about our homes, while all of my other friends back home center around our common interests (my roommate and my interests almost mirror each other, so that aspect is there as well).

I take that back, the most interesting thing has to be his fear of photos.

I take that back, the most interesting thing has to be his fear of photos.

A couple of weeks ago we got to talking and somehow I brought up Fifty Shades of Grey, which was risky because I really didn’t want to explain what the plot line was (is there even one?), and after a while my roommate eluded to the promiscuity of Americans by saying he didn’t know why we liked being intimate so much. At the time I played it cool but was surprised that that kind of misconception of Americans exists. I tried my hardest to clear that up for him and tell him that many Americans (myself included) aren’t like that using my child-like Chinese, and I don’t regret it one bit. Although we’ve never had a talk about misconceptions and stereotypes about Chinese people, many of them have been cleared up from subtle nuances I caught just being around him so much. My favorite cultural insight is Chinese hospitality. When he and I would go out to eat, countless times he would pay for me without a second thought (we started going dutch after I finally figured out how to say there was no need), and let’s not forget all of the times I had no idea what I was doing and he would help me understand something, or simply take me to put minutes on my phone.

He also took me to a temple near Yunnan University, the college that I have my classes in.

He also took me to a temple near Yunnan University, the college that I have my classes in.

When we got there we were given two candles and some incense. Once we got to the kiosks where they go, I lit my candles with the flame of another, then placed them down inside the kiosk.

When we got there we were given two candles and some incense. Once we got to the kiosks where they go, I lit my candles with the flame of another, then placed them down inside the kiosk.

After that, the incense was lit, and I stood in front of one of the temple’s buildings to make a wish and pray (my roommate helped me with this every step of the way). Not going to lie, I wished for a hamburger.

After that, the incense was lit, and I stood in front of one of the temple’s buildings to make a wish and pray (my roommate helped me with this every step of the way). Not going to lie, I wished for a hamburger.

All in all, I’m going to make sure once I arrive home to not forget his kindness, and to pay it forward by taking that piece of Chinese culture to the States. Going back to what I said about culture shock, there’s also a stage where you begin to feel comfortable with how things work where you are. I can proudly report that I’m tiptoeing my way into a rut, but not in the cliché way this word is often used. In a place where little children (and very often the elderly) look at you like you come from outer space, having a routine that includes friends you never thought you’d have is a blessing that is hard to take for granted.

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Filed under Culture Shock, East Asia, Garrett in China