Why Your Study Abroad Friendships Are the Strongest
As difficult as it is to believe, I just reached the four-year anniversary of hopping on a plane to Salzburg, Austria. I had never been out of the country and had never even flown by myself. As you might imagine, I was absolutely terrified. And when I’m terrified, I kind of quit functioning. Most of my social skills see themselves out the door and I turn into this sarcastic bitch-faced lone wolf.
I realized that I had morphed into said lone wolf on about day 2. I was homesick, lonely, and wanted desperately to tuck my tail between my legs and fly home.
Friends for a lifetime
But then something miraculous happened: my study abroad friends came into my life seemingly out of nowhere. It was like one day I was an introverted shell of a loser and then suddenly I had these absolutely amazing people right there with me.
It didn’t take long to realize that these friends were going to be sticking around for a long time. We only had four short months together in Salzburg but only a couple weeks into the semester, I was already vibing so well with the people I had met (which is highly unusual for me).
Our semester absolutely flew by and before we knew it, we were all hugging each other sobbing outside of our favorite bar, saying goodbye on our very last night together. By the next week, we already had a group chat set up for all of us and we’ve been talking almost daily for the last four years.
I’ve only seen my Salzburg friends twice since we left but they’re still some of my very best friends. Here are just a few of the reasons that your study abroad friendships are the strongest:
If you’re studying abroad, chances are you’re only going to be abroad for a semester or maybe a year. That doesn’t give you very long to connect with people. But the good news is that all the people you’re studying abroad with are in the same boat. You might think you’re the only one worried about making friends in such a short amount of time but the truth is that everybody else is too. And that need to connect with people quickly leads to some really strong friendships.
You also connect quickly with your study abroad friends because if you’re in a non-English-speaking country, you’re probably some of the only people who speak English. When we first arrived, only one or two people in my group spoke German and the rest of us were fairly lost. We needed to rely on the German speakers in our group to literally get us by. And those of us who didn’t speak German bonded over not speaking German. Win/win.
Being stressed/homesick/culture shocked together
There’s something about being stressed out with other people that automatically bonds you. Not everyone in our group struggled with homesickness as much as I did but we all got stressed out or felt culture shocked at some point.
One time in particular that I remember being stressed together was in Venice. It was late at night and we were hopelessly lost and arguing over which way our rental apartment was. The stress bubbled over and my roommate and I ended up yelling at each other in a dark dead-end alley. But after we were done yelling at each other, we still had to squint down at the same map and figure out where the hell we were going. Because no matter how stressed out we were, we still had to rely on each other. Experiencing stress, sadness, and homesickness with your study abroad friends will bring you closer together in ways you wouldn’t have expected.
When you’re abroad, you’re essentially forced to share absolutely everything. Most of us didn’t come with hair styling tools from the states because we knew they would get fried. So one of us bought a hair dryer, one bought a straightener, one bought a curling iron, etc. When it was time to get ready to go out for the night, we all had to congregate in one room to share.
We also all packed pretty light for our semester which meant that we were sick of our clothes after about a month. So what do you when you’re sick of your own wardrobe? Dig into your roommate’s wardrobe, obviously.
Setting aside clothing and beauty products, you also end up sharing practically everything else. You share food, suitcases, shampoo and conditioner, the answers to yesterday’s German homework, pots and pans, cleaning supplies…the list goes on and on. And when you’re constantly knocking on someone’s door asking to borrow something, it’s hard to not be best friends.
Participating in local events
Studying abroad means getting to experience really cool and unique cultural things in your chosen country. So you and your friends will try your best to dress like the locals, follow the crowd, and blend in. But by the end of the day, you’re all a little too day-drunk, talking just a little too loud, and singing Wagon Wheel on your walk home. No matter how hard you try to blend in, you and your friends are going to end up sticking out like the big group of Americans that you are. But, hey, it’s all good. Once you accept it, you can all laugh about it together. And putting your American-ness aside, it’s also just a really cool experience to learn about a new culture together.
When it’s time to come home, nobody will understand quite like your study abroad friends how difficult it is. First, you have to say the excruciating goodbyes (brace yourself for lots of tears). Then you’ll return to your hometown and want to tell the whole world about your amazing experiences. But you’ll find that people’s eyes glaze over when you start with, “When I was abroad…” (sad but true). In those moments, you will rely on your study abroad friendships and you can all reminisce about the good ole days together. Four years down the road, you will still find yourselves texting in the group chat about those cheap bottles of wine and your family dinners on Sunday nights.
Studying abroad changes you in many ways. You’ll learn new languages, eat new foods, experience new things, and most importantly, meet new people. And those people will fill a hole you didn’t even know you had. You will laugh, cry, and adventure together. And most of all, those people will completely change your life and make you see the world from a new perspective. Cherish those study abroad friendships and enjoy every single second you get with them.
Its so wonderful that you developed strong bonds while studying abroad. Having shared experiences really adds a new dimension to any relationship and living together in a new country, obviously takes it all to a new level. Hope you stay bonded, always.
I totally agree with this. I lived in Korea for a year and the people who supported me there have a very special place in my heart. They helped me when I was an outsider and at my lonliest and that creates an unshakable bond. Thanks for the share.
I studied abroad during my years in college and I could relate to many of these. All of my study abroad friends have since moved to other places (as have I) since leaving college but we often reminisce about many great times – especially the times that were totally unpredictable and risky. Gotta do those risky things with others 😉
The Travel Ninjas
First off, Salzburg is gorgeous. What a perfect place to see more of the world. I also agree that those relationships can last a lifetime. I’m still close with friends I made many years ago.
Ahh! Such a sweet story of friendship. I didn’t do a study abroad, but my senior year of high school we had a girl from Rio stay with us for a year. She became like a sister. I’m happy to say that 30 years later we still stay in contact. In fact, I’m flying to Rio to see her in just a couple of weeks!
I loved how you teamed up to buy your hair styling tools. I do believe there’s something to be said about working together, traveling together, as those friends really get to know you and do become your best friends. You will have a connection that nobody will ever be able to take away.
Ana Rose | Roads and Pages
It is one my dreams to study abroad. I have a Chinese friend who kept on inviting me before to take my PhD in Singapore. That time, I was reluctant to study PhD in another country as I worry it will be even more difficult. I like to study abroad just to learn their language. My dream is to stay in Korea and learn Hanggeul. Your post made me missed my Chinese best friend. He is the first foreign friend that visited me in the Philippines.
Haha sarcastic bitch-faced lone wolf… sounds like me all the time lol. But this post is so true! I didn’t go on an exchange when I was in school but two of my friends studied abroad in Korea. It’s been 7 years since they returned and they still have reunions every couple of months. Some of them even moved to the same city. And you’re right, the rest of us that didn’t study abroad just can’t relate when they share their experiences. As much as we’d like to understand it just ain’t the same.
This is a beatifiul post and I really enjoyed reminiscing about my own experience abroad at a teenager. That was half a lifetime ago for me, but I still agree. The experience was one of the most important influences on my adult life decisions.
I’ve never studied abroad but I can relate to your post as some of my strongest friendships are through working & travelling overseas. When you’re in a new place without family, you rely more on friends, and they often turn out to be the brothers, sisters, family you wish you had, at least for me anyway 🙂