How the year abroad can affect your friendships
Jess studies Economics and Spanish at the University of Leeds and spent her year abroad teaching English at the University of Valencia, which she documented on her blog and her YouTube channel. These are her thoughts on why shaking up your friendship group might be a good thing...
You may have your parents convinced but we all know you aren’t going to study or work seriously on your year abroad. Little do they know that it’s more like ‘Freshers Round 2, The Holiday Abroad Edition’ but less partying and thankfully no freshers flu (depending on how hardcore you are of course). It’s a chance to start afresh, make new international friends whilst sipping on some yummy sangria. Perfect.
What I didn’t realise was that after my year abroad, things would never be the same again.
With any new experience, you make friends quickly to adjust being in a different environment – whether they are solid friends or just social friends is another matter. Remember freshers? How many of those friends do you talk to now? The same could happen to your year abroad friends too.
Instead of overhyping the year abroad experience like we all did for freshers, in this blog post I'll be talking about the sweet and sour aspects of friendships to prepare you and get you thinking about what to expect for your adventure ahead, as well as informing you about my own personal experience.
1. The Sweet
A year abroad is the best part of your university degree, hands down.
Yes, being in a foreign country will throw you into the deep end but your new friends will be your lifesavers. You and hundreds of other students are all in the same boat (or sunken boat) on this year abroad adventure which makes it easier for you to make friends. Before long you’ll be embracing the waters with them, establishing long lasting friendships on the year abroad journey full of ups and downs. Hold on tight, it’s a rocky ride.
You’ll meet people you’ve never met before.
Whilst in England you may not have made many international friends, by being in a different country means you’ll be exposed to other foreigners. You’ll be joining an eclectic melting pot fusion of nationalities and love it. It’s like the students from around the world (or just the whole of Germany and Italy if you’re studying in Spain) have decided to come together and live in one place to meet new people like you, have a good time in a new exotic environment. After the year abroad when your besties go back to their home country, you will have built a network of friends around the world. Yay. Basically an excuse to go on holiday but hey, if a friend is offering me free accommodation in Italy why would I say no?
Oh and if you’re the type that is looking for love (or probably just sex), then the year abroad opens up endless opportunities for you to meet members of the opposite or same sex depending on what floats your boat.
Prior to my year abroad I had never had a boyfriend before so for those of you that think you’re going to die lonely with a gazillion cats or are on the brink of converting yourself into a nun, don’t fret as the year abroad is a chance to get yourself out there.
2. The Sour
Your whole friendship scene will change completely.
Whilst it’s appears all fine and dandy in your Facebook photos, you’ll be far away from your new found year abroad buddies and realise that maintaining contact is not as easy as it seems when they’re halfway across the world, even if they’re only in Spain.
You’ll never be able to meet all of them at the same time...
...but instead of losing contact you end up being best virtual friends, mutually agreeing that Snapchats are the best solution to a sticky situation because seeing what they eat everyday is comforting and really stabilises the friendship.
With your old friends back at home you’ll ironically feel farther away from them...
...like there is a boundless ocean separating you from them, even if they live in the same town as you. A year abroad is such a life changing experience that you will feel like your friends back at home are somehow one step (or swim stroke) behind. Instead of trying to reach you on the other side and exploring the depths of the ocean, your friends stay in their comfort zones and continue with their everyday routines. However you are now a new person, ridden with wanderlust and constantly in search for the next adventure.
3. My Personal Experience
For me, this is not the first time I've stepped out of my comfort zone nor is it the first life changing experience I've had. I first started changing back in 2012 when I spent 3 months volunteering in Sierra Leone. Little did I know that the experience would leave me sensing a growing distance between me and my friends.
Similarly, the year abroad impacted me and has made me feel more independent, open-minded and mature than ever.
So you don't talk to any of your old friends now?
This year abroad has been the 'final push' if you like. I feel like I've outgrown a lot of my friends but it's not them, it's me. Whilst I have no bad feelings towards any of them, I feel like the friendships are not the same for me anymore. Within 3 years I've grown so much faster than my other friends and because they haven’t shared similar experiences I feel like I'm on a completely different page to them.
Wait, so you're just a loner?
Yes, I did really need some alone time this year to really concentrate and discover myself, which has been liberating. However it doesn’t mean I’m an antisocial recluse. I prefer to say that I’m selective in my choice of friends.
They say you're made up of the 5 people you spend the most time with and I believe this is completely true. In the past I'd surround myself with people that would fill my mind with information or problems that I had outgrown and didn’t need anymore. I felt trapped, suffocated and lost, that I wasn’t advancing nor becoming the person who I wanted to be. For me, this year has been a mind detox cleanse if you like. The year abroad gave me an opportunity to have some space to myself and now I´m more happy with myself than ever before.
What about the friends you made on your year abroad?
Don't get me wrong, I made lots of friends but the majority are no more than social friends or just friends on Facebook. I had fun with them but realistically speaking, I’ll only be in contact with a few of them after my year abroad. You may feel like I’m crazy or maybe you feel like you’re in the same situation yourself. If so, you’re not the only one (cue Sam Smith's song) as I guess it’s quite common for young people since we are constantly changing, growing up and finding ourselves.
All I have to say is: be true to yourself.
Ask yourself if you still feel in tune with your friends.
Are things no longer the same because you've changed after living outside of your comfort zone instead of in? Do you feel that your priorities and interests have changed after your experiences?
Ask yourself if you are happy with your friendships.
How many of your friends genuinely care about you and would act as a lifesaver for when the tides get rough? And no, I don’t mean your top friends on Snapchat.
Ask yourself if your friends are cluttering your mind with negativity.
Do your friends moan and whine most of the time? Do you find yourself participating in the moaning and whining, then feeling more negative after speaking with them?
Ask yourself if you are friends for the right reason.
Are you comfortable being alone? Or are you having friends for the sake of having them?
For some people there is a fear of loneliness and the need to surround themselves with people to feel appreciated and special but you shouldn’t rely on others. Be comfortable in your own skin and enjoy spending time with yourself. Understand who you are and love yourself to pieces – and no, marrying yourself is too far.
If any of the above apply to you, it's time to change. At the end of the day it's your life to live. No one has time for friends that are negative, flaky, boring and aren't going to help you progress as a person – life is too short.
Have you been through a life changing experience that has impacted you and your friendships in a similar way?