Experiencing new things is always better when you have someone to turn to and say, “isn’t this amazing?” And seeing as though studying abroad contains at least one new experience per day, someone to share them with is, in my opinion, essential.
Personally, I love socializing; I get a rush when getting to know new people. There’s something enticing about talking to someone who knows nothing about you, who has no preconceived notions and with whom you can share as much as you’d like. However, even for a social junkie like myself, making new friends can be daunting. All sorts of thoughts run through my mind: Am I being too pushy? Do they want to talk to me? Do they even want to make new friends? Does my breath smell bad? Overcoming these anxieties can be difficult, and therefore many students studying abroad convince themselves they are content with solitude. I’m here on the crusade for socializing over solitude and hope I can turn you into a believer as well.
I’m fortunate enough to be in Montpellier with some close friends from Drexel; we’re a tight knit group who wanted to experience something new together. However, we all vowed that we would branch out and make new friends as well. As I said before, one of my favorite feelings it that of newly budded friendship. So, on our first night, during a pizza social that was quickly turning rather cliquey (Drexel v. University of New Orleans), I simply turned to the girl next to me and asked her name. Our introductions spread to the whole group, spinning off into conversations about Mardi Gras and Philadelphia, about our majors and showing pictures of pets people left at home.
Left-over pizzas in hand, a group of about ten of us made our way back to one room and chatted until one in the morning. Now, maybe our jetlag had something to do with it, but I could also sense the excitement that everyone felt, the same one that I so love: the excitement of making new friends. The anxiety we had all felt before about feeling accepted was stripped away. We are all college students looking for a fun summer of adventure and cool courses – the differences didn’t matter.
Those connections we made our first night have only grown stronger. In the short amount of time we’ve been here, we have all gotten closer. From doing homework on the outdoor landings of our housing (the heatwave and lack of AC makes staying in your room impossible during the day), to taking walking city tours, to exploring outdoor markets, sharing these new experiences with new people is a quick way to solidify bonds.
The night of my 20th birthday, that same group from the first night took me out for a night on the town. Being in France, let alone the beautiful city of Montpellier is the perfect birthday gift by itself, but that I was able to share it with a group of such fun and kind people made it so much sweeter. At one point in the evening, a new friend turned to me and said “you Drexel kids aren’t what we expected.” I knew exactly what he meant. We all figured that the extremely different environments we went to school in would somehow make us extremely different people. But I then I remembered the wide variety of people that attend Drexel, that I’m friends with, and I realized that this is no different.
A quick note about friends and French: My mom was concerned that because I was traveling with friends, namely American friends, I wouldn’t be able to practice my French – the main reason she encouraged me to study abroad. However, despite hanging out with primarily Americans thus far, I’ve had no shortage of French encounters. In fact, since many of my friends are not conversational in French, I find myself ordering food for them, asking directions and prices, etc. Additionally, my American pals help bolster my confidence; since they know barely any French, they’re impressed with whatever I can speak and encourage me to continue trying to communicate with locals.
While I haven’t been here long enough to make lasting connections with any Montpellier citizens, I am just as – if not more – excited to try my hand at French friendship making. Despite the stereotype of French rudeness, I have found the people to be very warm so far, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. I hope that within my time here I am able to build friendships despite our language differences and come out of this experience all the more enriched. I’ll keep you posted!