When I was 19 and in the second year of my first university degree I had a life changing moment. It was my third week into the dullest class I’d transferred into –for a friend’s sake- when this Norwegian boy walked in. I didn’t know it then but that moment was going to spark a catalyst of change in my life. A couple weeks passed and something came over me. I thought to myself, how strange it must be to show up to a country on the other side of the world without knowing any of the people, the places or the culture itself. So at the end of class I walked up to him and gave him my number. I told him that if he didn’t know anyone and wanted someone to show him around Perth to let me… And sure enough he did.
As you can assume I had a car at the time and he didn’t, so one night I went to pick him up from the house he was staying in. I knocked on the door and when he opened it all I could see was a living room full of Norwegian boys. I don’t remember exactly where we went that night but I can remember grabbing beers at the Flying Scotsman in Mount Lawley –well I remember shouting him a Bulmer’s cider, and I think I grabbed a Little Creatures- and showing him the amazing views of Perth at night from Kings Park. I didn’t know it at the time but that night was the start of one of the most influential friendships of my life.
Not long after that night the four Norwegian boys became part of my family, along with a token Frenchman. We were so close that I basically lived with them for a year. They were my best friends, so much so that my mother –who no longer saw me- had invited them to our house for Christmas and Easter. My mum loved these guys so much that she would have adopted them if she could. For me it was a great time to be alive, not only because of the fun we had together but the things I learnt from the whole experience. These boys had come along at a crucial time in my life where I was slowly moving on from several toxic relationships/friendships. But as Geoffrey Chaucer said all good things must come to an end, and when these boys finally had to leave it was like breaking-up with a long-term boyfriend, only 5 times over. Worst of all they all left one at a time, making the process of saying good-bye harder again. So why would I ever put myself through that again?
Now 23 and in my second university degree I’ve noticed myself becoming friends with numerous international students more and more often without even realising it. Most recently –in the last 6 months- I’ve become good friends with two gorgeous girls -Laura from Germany and Megan from USA. I met Laura in one of my university classes, and Megan from another girlfriend (Chloe) who had met her at university and brought her along to one of our dinner parties. Sadly as always the time has now come for these great girls to leave Perth, but I foresee a lot of awkwardly timed Skype breakfast/dinner dates in our futures. But that’s okay, because one lesson I’ve learnt is that conversations with international friends are never dull. That’s one of the best things about making friends with international students, you all have years and years of personal stories and experiences to share, cultures to compare and different opinions and perspectives on the world.
The more I’ve become friends with international students, the more I’ve learnt to get out of the experience. I no longer hesitate to become true friends with them. I now automatically choose to get the most out of each of these friendships –something I’ve now adopted into my everyday life with every friendship- and treat it as if it were like any other. I find most people hesitate to become friends with international students as they are aware of the imminent end of the relationship and figure ‘why bother getting into something that is just going to end anyway’. I now struggle with this view as the way I see it a friendship with an international student is no different to any other. Friendships come, grow, and go. We make friends in primary school, high school, university and workplaces and many of those friendships are lucky if they last a year or two after we leave those institutes. Now in my 20s I can look back and see the various and numerous friendships and groups I’ve been part of… and truthful, it is quite a long list. Maybe my views on becoming friends with international students come from me being use to ever changing groups of friends, or possibly from having Polish parents and being part of the Polish community in Perth, Australia; Or maybe it comes from me having travelled all my life –meaning I’ve had to learn to let friends come and go.
I still remember to this day a great friendship I had with a handful of boys in Rawicz, Poland. Rawicz is my dad’s home town in Poland. It’s the kind of town and isn’t flashy in anyway and where everyone knows everyone and everyone’s business. When I was 15 –or so- I went to Rawicz with my dad, stay for quite some time. Of course, everyone was already anticipating my arrival before it happened, so everyone was already waiting for me when I arrive. It only took a day for me to meet the group of boys that lived in that area and just as quickly we became friends. I remember that first day, the feeling of being a stranger and it took me a day or two to start speaking to them. To be fair, I was 15 and had to speak Polish. I was petrified that I couldn’t speak fluently enough and would embarrass myself.
This was my real first experience of being on the other side of the international friendship line. We ended up spending every waking moment together. They were always waiting for me outside my apartment in the morning, after lunch and dinner. Truth be told we only ever parted for the odd meal; otherwise we were making volleyball nets out of trees from the forest and string, watching movies at one of the boys houses or just generally loitering around the town chewing on sunflower seeds and their shells.
The night I had to say goodbye was incredibly difficult. Our goodbyes went on for hours. It was my first real ‘goodbye forever’ experience. Adding to that it was also one of the boys 18th Birthdays and my first drunk experience. Not only did I have to say stand up straight and say goodbye to all my relatives, but I had to say goodbye to these four Polish boys and my younger cousin. As always they walked me home and then it started, I had to say goodbye to them all and of course they all wanted to say their goodbyes separately. I was the visitor, and I was the one leaving, yet the feeling of hurt and sadness was incredible.
The truth is though, saying goodbye does become easier the more you do it; or maybe the older you get, but it does get easier. This entire concept of enjoying what you have whilst you have it and make the most of it whilst you have it because you never know when it’s going to go away has now become part of my philosophy as a person and I like to think I’m better for it.
I asked a few of my girlfriends (Chloe, Elle & Amy) and here is a list of commonly mentioned reasons for befriending international students:
- The opportunity to make new discoveries and reinforce a love of learning about new things.
- The chance to consider new cultures/beliefs/religious practice and try to analyse them, in turn learning more about others and yourself.
- The opportunity to enhance a love of travel and going to new places. It can provide an opportunity to go visit international friends in their home country, sleep on a couch and experience their culture and environment.
- The opportunity to enrich a passion of different languages or dialects
- The opportunity to develop a love of people and different human experiences.
- The opportunity to develop an understanding and helping one another.
- The opportunity to be exposed to and experience a wide range of cultures without having to go visit the countries they stem from.