I’ve been lucky enough to travel abroad twice in my life and I’m sorry to say it’s taken me 4 years to start really bringing this first trip (and most favorite) to life for my family, friends and the rest of you who read the blog! But here it is. Well, part of it anyway. I decided I wanted to share some tips on how I’ve managed to keep in touch with one of my favorite people on this earth from that trip. Even though he’s 4,750 miles away (Yes, I actually looked that up).
Before I tell you too much, I want you to know that every time you go abroad, you may not meet someone who you want to keep in touch with but I URGE you to talk to the locals, talk to the bellhop or your host or whoever you can. Meet with other students, creatives or the locals in the bar you’re hitting up. These are the citizens of the world – just like you. Try making a friend. It’s totally worth it to find the friend you were always meant to have. I don’t know if Milos and I really knew what we’d become to each other after we sat down and chatted that cold March Tuesday in Belgrade, but boy, are we glad we did. We’ve worked together on this list for you, to share some of our secrets in making a 15-minute meeting span into a 4 year (and going strong) friendship across thousands of miles.
1 – Make a Connection.
Okay, don’t roll your eyes or hit the back button yet, please. Think about it. I know I just urged you to talk to other human beings and you should. But you’re not going to wind up with a great buddy if you only speak for 5 minutes and have no connection. The day Milos and I met; my school’s group had a meeting at the university in the city. I met at least 10 other students who were my age – or older. I sat down with a young man and we did not click at all. AT ALL (although that’s another story for another day). So instead of being social, which is not really my thing, I got behind my camera and started documenting the room, which had become my unofficial job on the trip. Time slowly started winding down until we reached the last 20 minutes of the meeting. It was then Milos interrupted me and asked if I wanted to join his conversation with another of my travel group. Within just a few moments, Milos and I knew that something was different about how we talked with each other. We were practically the same person – just a boy and a girl, with a year’s age between us. Well, that and different global addresses. But you get the point. If we hadn’t felt that connection, he’d never have skipped a train trip home to come see us again later that week when we returned to Belgrade for our last night and we’d never still be talking to this day. The connection is the most important part of meeting someone (and sustaining) any kind of friendship but particularly one like this.
2- Be patient.
Life is different everywhere you go. Take one trip – even just out of your home town- and you’ll see that. Being friends with someone who lives in a different time zone, with different expectations and realities requires patience. They won’t always be ready to talk when you can. They won’t always even have internet when you do. Their cultures are different and priorities change from person to person. Don’t take a missed message or time between words exchanged feel like a rejection. Take the time to write an email and know that you can wait for a response. Or a letter. Or send a Facebook message. The beautiful thing about those unread messages? They WAIT. So can you. I promise, it’s so worth it.
3- Language isn’t meant to be a barrier.
When I went to Serbia, I knew how to say one word: Hvala (thank you). Luckily for me, Milos knows English – and his English is very good at that. Despite the commonality of English at the beginning, we still struggled over Facebook or an email every once in a while trying to better explain what we wanted to say to each other. I guess this ties back into number 2… don’t let the challenge of having to re-explain make you frustrated or feel stupid. Every once in a while, I try to write in Serbian (not well, mind you) but I’m so thankful when Milos takes the time to correct me and explain to me their grammatical rules. And I do the same for his English (or did, when he needed it). Instead of being a barrier, we let it become a bridge for us. P.S. Milos, Thanks for not laughing at me too hard at that cafana the last time I saw you when you tried to teach me Serbian phrases (or when I forget how to say simple things when we skype).
4-Take advantage of technology.
After I left Serbia and came home, I didn’t see Milos for almost a year. I wish I could say I’ve been back to Serbia since, but I haven’t (although a trip is in the works!). You’d think we’d have been able to Skype or video chat not long after I got home but that wasn’t the case. We just weren’t able to make it work. But when we did? Oh my gosh, I don’t think either of us spoke for a full five minutes. Emails and facebook chats are WONDERFUL but there’s something amazing about remembering you’ve been talking to a human all this time. After that first call, we didn’t Skype again for almost two more years. Now that we can more often, we try our hardest to take advantage of it whenever we can around work and the time zone changes. Those calls are like gold to us. I’ve been able to show him where I live, have him meet my sweet husband and share parts of my life with him that he won’t be able to see for another few years in person. So take advantage of the technology we have today as much as you can. Trust us, it’s beyond worth it to carve out time for a call – even if it’s a quick one!
(from our second Skype call EVER).
Milos has become such a part of who I am and it’s amazing to know that we were meant to meet at that university all those years ago. I’ve had some of the most thought provoking conversations with him and had a chance to share my world with someone who truly hasn’t seen it yet. I’ve the chance to go back to Serbia and see him and that beautiful place again and he will one day have the chance to come here. The world is so much smaller when you meet someone you know were always meant to know. We hope this post encourages you to reach out when you travel somewhere new and make a new friend. We hope it shows you that anything is truly possible this day in age – not just a few words people say to make you feel better. We have such great tools to keep a friendship alive, but you have to have a deep connection to make those technological connections mean something more than a few letters. We hope you find that. Everyone deserves a friendship like this.
Hvala, Milos. For everything.