It was March of 2001. My new study abroad bestie Leslie and I were on a train to Budapest, during spring break from our program in Cannes. We were being met at the station by a distant family member and her daughter, who was our age, that I had never met. We were to stay with them in Budapest for a few nights. I wasn’t sure of their English language skills. I had never met them. Neither Leslie nor I had a cell phone. And my relatives only had a years-old photo of me to find me when we arrived.
Leslie and I had an amazing few days in the Eastern European city. Looking back, it’s amazing to think about how we managed to get there without having even spoken to them on the phone beforehand. We had no social media, no cell phones – and yet we made it.
What’s probably more amazing than surviving Budapest without social media, is the fact that to this day I have extremely close relationships with several of the girls I met during my AIFS study abroad program. In fact I traveled to Mexico earlier this month to attend one pal’s wedding.
After we said our goodbyes in Cannes, Leslie went back to New York City. I went back to Washington, DC. Kate, to Wisconsin, Jill, to Iowa. The connection that we have maintained over the years is unbelievably solid. I consider these girls to be some of my closet friends, even 13 (yikes!) years later.
Social media coming along has definitely helped; but we certainly didn’t need it. We were gathering together for reunions long before we had Facebook accounts. The bond that began when we arrived in France, and awkwardly picked strangers for roommates has turned into lifelong friendships that I would never give up for a single thing. These girls are my rocks, my confidantes, my sisters.
There is something about studying abroad that sews a thread like no other when it comes to friendships. The things you experience, the places you travel, the hilarity, the mistakes, the fun times. Once you get on that plane and go back to your “normal” life, what’s left are great memories, and lifelong soul mates.