I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately. Navigating the shifts in a friendship as lives and people change can be tricky. Friends come in and out of your life, and sometimes that experience can be heartbreaking.
Studying abroad is one of those Major Shifts in friendship; depending on how far away you are, your schedules are unlikely to match up well and your experiences abroad are far different from those of your friends at home. While abroad, you miss out on a lot that happens at home with your friends and family, and there is no guarantee that any of your relationships will be exactly the same when you return. And it’s even harder to realize that sometimes the friendships that you anticipate lasting forever can and will end. It’s scary.
Even with friends that you’ve had forever, leaving for a long time forces both people to re-examine the relationship. You may find that you talk to your friends from home frequently… every day, every week… or you may find that you don’t talk to them at all. That is not to say that the entirety of a friendship is based on consistent communication, but it certainly helps in the maintenance of a friendship, especially over long distances.
When I studied abroad a few years ago, it was my junior year of high school. Many of my friends were graduating seniors, and I knew that I would be missing some milestones in their lives. That was the sacrifice I made by going abroad when I did, and it is a sacrifice I’m making again, this time in college.
In high school, I did a horrible job of keeping up with my friends at home. While no one is to blame for our failure to keep in touch, the result is the same: I came back and discovered that I had lost some friends and that many of my other friendships were limping along. It took time and effort to repair the distance that my trip abroad put between us. I never regret going, but it’s interesting to note the effect that study abroad had on those relationships. Looking back, I feel like the damage done was the biggest negative impact of study abroad on my life. Though that sounds dramatic, it’s true. I made wonderful friends while abroad– but even those friendships have fallen apart as we grow older and I talk to them less.
There is a part of me that misses those friends; those people that were there for me and experienced Significant Moments in my life with me. On the other hand, many friendships inevitably end and while that is sad, it is a necessary part of growing up. As I get older, I’m realizing that relationships are difficult to maintain. There must be effort on both sides, and those Major Shifts make friendships harder. My friends are graduating, heading off into the world, getting real jobs, getting engaged, so on and so forth– all of those are challenges to overcome.
Those changes aren’t the end of a friendship, and they don’t have to be. The extra effort needed to stay in touch with friends that live far away (in another city or another country) or friends whose lives are going in a different direction than your own is not too much to ask. For some relationships, it will be– but in those that really matter, there will be a way to make it work. Even if it means re-building a crumbling relationship upon returning.
Knowing this gives me hope for the future as I study abroad again; that distance may not be insurmountable and those Major Shifts don’t have to be a shift away from each other.