2018 Fall External Programs France Honora Feinberg IES Abroad

Uncharted Territory: Making New Friends in New Countries

Well, folks, we’ve arrived at the halfway mark. I’ve officially been living in France for two months. After finishing up my midterms this week, I embarked on the first leg of my fall break international travels: Grindelwald, Switzerland. After scrolling through hundreds of photos of expansive mountain landscapes, happy Swiss cows, and rolling emerald hills, I had pretty high expectations. Before crossing the border, however, I had to do some logistical planning. After my Swiss excursions, I will be flying to Prague. With that in mind, my main planning concerns were packing and baggage restrictions. The weather forecast for Grindelwald was snow, meaning I would have to bring my bulky winter coat, waterproof hiking boots, scarf, mittens, and hat… not exactly conducive to “packing light.” The train to Switzerland, I thought, wouldn’t be a problem with my carry-on suitcase and backpack, but the plane to Prague was a different story. Cheap airline flights equal strict baggage allowances. This meant that I would have to keep the weight of my backpack under ten pounds and stuff all of my winter gear into my tiny carry-on. I’m honestly still dreading the exchange at the Zurich airport, but fingers crossed.

Layered in my turtleneck sweatshirt, denim jacket, winter parka, and fluffy scarf, I took the train from Nantes to Strasbourg with my friend, Ben, and then Strasbourg to Interlaken. I had met Ben through IES and we had become fast friends so in mid-September he invited me to join him and a combination of his college friends and friends that his college friends had made through their Portugal study abroad program. Needless to say, I was a little nervous to be staying in an Airbnb with six people I had never met before. I worried that they wouldn’t like me or that I would feel excluded from inside jokes. While I’m a typically introverted person who prefers alone time to big group settings, I pledged to myself that I would step out of my comfort zone and approach these five days with a general openness.

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Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

We arrived at the Grindelwald bus station around one A.M. The sound of cowbells permeated through the peaceful silence of this small mountain town. As we had gotten in so late, everyone was already asleep upon our arrival. This gave me a little time to calm my nerves and get ready to meet everyone the next morning. I awoke around eight A.M., poorly rested and shivering under my light blanket. Not exactly grounds for the best first impression. I timidly asked everyone’s names and hometowns at the breakfast table. The girls all appeared very friendly, even at this early hour. As the day went on and we went exploring in the mountains, I began to feel a little more at ease. I found myself in one-on-one conversations with my new friends, finding mutual connections and talking about our parallel experiences studying in foreign countries. What was most remarkable to me was that, by the end of the night, I had formed solid bonds with everyone staying in the house. It felt like I had known these girls for months rather than hours, and all of my anticipatory anxiety melted away.

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While meeting new friends and encountering new social situations has always made me nervous, I have found myself developing a new source of confidence while abroad. I feel like I can now embrace aspects of my personality that I would usually hide out of fear of being judged or being disliked. Waking up this morning, my second full day in Switzerland, I no longer felt worried about how my new friends would perceive me, but rather, I felt excited to make more memories in a town that you only see on postcards.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

 

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