When I was 4 years old, my mom agreed to host a French teenager for the summer through our local Chamber of Commerce. However, 18-year-old Sebastien wasn’t as keen as the rest of the students to visit California: he had recently fallen in love with a girl from home. Long story short, his insistence on returning home early forced plenty of phone calls between my mother and his—starting and nurturing a friendship. His younger brother, Aurelien, spent the next summer with us.
When I was 16 years old, I spent a summer in France—shuffling among Claudine, Sebastian and his high school sweetheart, Aurelien and his high school sweetheart, and various family members. Claudine and her husband met our family in Hawaii for Christmas a few years ago—an interesting experience, considering my mother was the only one who spoke both French and English fluently. And just recently, I spent a weekend with Claudine in Provence and a day with the entire family—including the four children of Sebastien and Aurelien that I’ll surely host someday in America.
The fact that our families have remained friends for the past eighteen years—before the age of Facebook, Skype and Gmail—has always influenced how I feel about making friends abroad. Sure, I meet plenty of people who I’m sure I’ll never see again. But what about those friendships that stick, the people you click with despite living halfway across the globe from each other?
I made some amazing friends in Nice. I already had a reunion with two of my best girlfriends who I met through the Alliance Francaise, meeting up for a delightful weekend in Oxford. They’re the type of friends who you never say “goodbye” to—it’s always “see you later.” I’ve made friends around the world through hostels, bike tours, quiet cafes, rowdy bars, a smile or a shrug.
Sure, there are plenty who I’ll only keep in touch with through Facebook status updates, who I’ll eventually hide since their lives no longer affect mine. But then there are those who I still talk to regularly—or at the very least, are the very first names that pop into my head when I plan a return trip.
Now that I’ve set plans for Australia, people keep asking me if I know anyone there. Well, not quite. But one of the chefs who I worked with in France is Australian, and his sister still lives in Sydney. I’m still Facebook friends with a few Australian girls whom I met while backpacking in Europe. A couple of old high school friends are on a working holiday in Australia now. Everyone I meet knows someone living in Australia, someone who’s been there, a real-life Australian in the flesh.
In short, I have friends, friends of friends, those who I’ll surely charm into becoming friends. Having an address book that spans the globe certainly gives me plenty of initial connections, but it also gives me confidence that I’ll be able to add more names once I get there.
Do you have an around-the-world address book? Any good stories of how you met lifelong friends or what inspired you to keep in touch, despite the distance?