One of the most exciting aspects of your time abroad is the incredible, completely random people you will meet along the way that will become a very important part of not only your study abroad experience but your friends/family for the rest of your life.
If you’re like me, you may be planning to study abroad in a more independent manner – as in you are not going with a program led, a pre-planned group of students who will be with you for the duration of your time abroad with a host. If you’re doing it like me, you are moving solo… to a new country…for a year. Sounds a bit scary.
When I enrolled in my year-long program to Lyon, France I had never been to France, or even Europe, and I did not speak French. Needless to say, I was a bit worried. I decided to download Tandem, a language learning app that matches you with people around the world who you can practice language with via message or video chat. You want to learn their native language, and they want to learn yours. It’s a great way to develop local dialect and practice your pronunciation, but I never thought it would lead to new friendships. By an amazing stroke of luck I was matched with a French student, Alex, from Lyon, France! By an even more amazing stroke of luck, Alex would be coming to study in my hometown in Idaho at the same time I would be going to France.
Neither of us had ever been to our exchange countries and quickly agreed that we would ask our families to look after one another when we arrived. We coordinated with each other, and our program coordinators, to arrange our arrivals, housing, moving help, etc. When I arrived in France, Alex’s uncle & cousin, Magid & Kenza, were eagerly waiting for me at the airport, saying “BIENVENUE ERIS!”, and ready to help me get all settled into my French life. I would never have expected that they would become an unforgettable and vital part of my year in Lyon. From football games to dinners, a beautiful engraved bracelet that I still wear every single day, and even helping me break into my own apartment when I locked myself out, they were the best French family I could have asked for.
Fast forward to present day, 2.5 years later, and I have just returned from my first post-exchange trip back to France to see Magid, Kenza, Emmanuel, and friends. It’s still incredible to me that near-strangers have become a permanent and irreplaceable part of my time in Lyon and my life, truly like family.
I strongly encourage you to explore new and exciting channels to meet new people, before, during, and after your time abroad. We live in an age where we are not confined to just those around us. We have the opportunity to make connections around the world, and you never know how those people will impact your life and your time abroad.
Cheers and happy travels,