What do you get when you bring together university and a ton of people from other countries?
If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably happiness, cultural fangirling (please tell me all about the little things that are different where you’re from) and a bit of heartache.
In a university context, most people you meet from abroad tend to fall in 2 categories: international students or exchange students. The difference is fairly simple, exchange students are visiting for either a semester or a year, whereas an international student is there for the whole degree.
As someone who’s barely ever left the country, and certainly hasn’t yet left the continent (luckily I finally got my passport), then meeting all these people from abroad is a huge eye opener.
Each person opens the door to a facet of a different culture and a different perspective, and often a realisation that a lot of these stereotypes or preconceptions that have been ingrained in you are at best a little exaggerated or at worst completely wrong.
The most recent example is with the celebration of Epiphany. I have a few friends from Belgium who told me a bit about the galette des rois tradition. Needless to say, I was confused at first. I’d never heard of the holiday and a part of me just assumed that western European countries celebrated the same things we do here.
Obviously I knew it wasn’t true, but knowing something vs. being told something has a very different effect. Somehow, a fact carries more weight and seems more real when told by someone you know and trust.
I will admit that having friends from abroad has a downside…
A lot of them are going to leave.
When you see someone every week, it’s easy to forget that they haven’t always been there.
For exchange students, that band-aid gets ripped off real fast. For international students it’s a bit longer. In both cases though, you reach the final month and you wonder what happened to all that time.You realise a semester or even 4 years can pass in the blink of an eye.
Making friends from abroad is both wonderful and heart-wrenching if, like me, you get attached quickly.
You meet them, they charm you, you hang out, they teach you all about their home, you laugh, they make you try new things, they integrate themselves into your experience, and then they’re packing their bags to go home.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. You don’t just forget about them. Facebook chats, Whatsapp, Snapchat and Skype calls help you stay in touch until you can afford the plane tickets to go visit each other. Then you’ll finally be able experience everything they’d told you about.