Making Friends Abroad vs. Back Home

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Human connection is a basic need for every person on this earth—whether you’re an extrovert who always enjoys being surrounded by people, or an introvert who enjoys your personal space—we all seek out, and hold on to connections in our life. From family to coworkers, and friends to strangers; we’ve all got that “Myspace Top 8”.

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Making Friends as Children

These connections we have seem to change and fluctuate throughout our different stages of life.

When we are children—young, carefree, and judgment-free—we will befriend just about anyone. Our curiosity in people and the world drives us to foster connections with kids on the playground and strangers at the supermarket just the same.

But as we grow older, things start to get a little more clique-y.

We begin to develop our friend groups. Groups of people with the same looks as us, same likes as us, same dislikes as us. Our once openhearted acceptance of everyone turns into critical judgment as we pick and choose where we “fit in”. And once middle/high school hits, things start to begin to look like the cafeteria scene in Mean Girls.

Making Friends as an Adult

For those of us who attend college, freedom reopens our ability to make new connections. Some of us move out of town, or even out of state. We are in a period of breaking free from our hormonal, catty, high school-selves and are transitioning into adults (well, “college-adults”). This separation allows us the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and seek out new friend groups as we sort out our changing likes/dislikes.

Things can still get clique-y though, *cough*fraternities and sororities*cough*, (“who do you know here?”). And our tendencies to cling to comfort and steer clear of those different than us persists.

Then we graduate, and although many of the friends we make in college become life-long, our groups are often split up depending on where our careers take us.

Our coworkers then become our new friend groups, which can go either way on the scale of acceptance. I’ve had coworkers that I’ve formed meaningful connections with, and those who I’ve wanted to attack like Cady Herron when she saw Regina George kiss Aaron Samuels at the Halloween party (yes, another Mean Girls reference, I know…it’s just so damn relatable).

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Changes in Connections

Maybe the aforementioned timeline doesn’t exactly match yours, but for me, it mirrors the fluctuation in connections that I’ve experienced since my Montessori days.

Throughout this experience, I’ve noticed a few things. One being the change from quantity to quality of connections. When I was younger, I thought the number of friends (and type of friends you had) were the most important thing—the more, and more popular, the better.

Fast forward to post-college and I am left with only a handful of quality connections—some friends that I met when I was younger, some that I met in college, and some that I met after college (y’all know who you are). And though I’ve changed drastically through the years, each connection resonates with a true part of myself, and I am grateful for these people I have to turn to for help, laughs, cries, and meaningful memories.

Another thing I noticed as I got older, is how hard it is to make friends. That young child without a worry in the world was so confident in going up to any person and talking to them; but the twenty-something-year-old is restricted by insecurity and fear of judgement when it comes to talking to someone new. 

How do we make connections as adults, after college, once we’re in our new cities/careers?

It’s not as easy as seeing someone out on the street or at a coffee shop, walking up to them, and saying “Hello, will you be my friend?”. I’ve seen such attempts made by guys who’ve had one-too-many whiskey-cokes at the bar…hardcore fail. Getting back to my point, it’s hard to make friends as adults, or at least it was for me…until I moved abroad.

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Making Friends Abroad

Making friends abroad is a whole different ball game, especially if you’re traveling alone. 

Often times, it is as easy as seeing someone on the street or at a coffee shop, walking up to them, and asking them if they want to be your friend. It’s spotting out people with backpacks, introducing yourself, and starting a conversation about where they’re headed. Its staying at hostels in one room with twelve strangers, just to meet people. It’s a sense of that carefree, judgment-free attitude you had when you were a child. It’s being vulnerable and lonely and desperate and curious all at the same time. 

When you’re abroad, you don’t care what a person looks like. You don’t care if they aren’t someone you would “normally” talk to back home. Most of the time speaking the same language is the only commonality you need that will satisfy the sense of comfort you’re seeking through connection. 

It’s easy to make connections—to make friends—abroad. 

I’ve met and connected with more people in three months living abroad than I did in the two years after graduating college and moving to a new city. I love what this experience has given me in terms of opening up and meeting people, but its opened my eyes to the strong polarity between making connections abroad, and making friends back home.

Forgetting “Fear”

What is it that makes it so easy to talk to new people when you’re traveling, but impossible to talk to new people in the city you live in?

My guess…FEAR.

Fear of being judged. Fear of stepping outside our comfort zone. Fear of rejection.

We put ourselves in this invisible box based on our external, egoic traits. We then (sometimes unintentionally), seek out others that fit into these boxes. And we turn the other way from people who are in a box that looks different than ours. Although we may have the curiosity to check out someone else’s box, or step out of our own, the shame of being rejected is just strong enough to keep us within our borders.

We can all relate to this situation on some level. And unless you have traveled and experienced the opposite, you may be stuck in your box, reading this, and wondering how you can grow the “kahunas” to overcome your fears and develop new connections as an adult.

I think it comes down to channeling that inner child within all of us—the carefree, judgment-free spirit of our soul.

It comes down to separating ourselves from our ego, the part of us that wants to be accepted, protected, and liked by everybody. It requires being vulnerable, authentic, and honest with ourselves about who we are and the connections we deserve.

Real friendships—real connections—are manifested and maintained when we are being our true selves; free of fear, free of judgment, free of rejection, and free to connect.

Human connection is a basic need for every person on this earth, give yourself the permission to foster yours.

Stay open, stay connected,         

Sierra Nicole

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