“Friends are the sunshine of life.”—John Hay
I cheated, and nearly twenty minutes before my graduation ceremony from Oxford University was set to commence, I ripped open the contents of a farewell card from my closest British friend, Johnny. The John Hay’s quote that greeted me, despite its seemingly trite sentiment, brought me to tears. (I was grateful I had worn waterproof mascara, a lesson I learned after nine months England.) The text of the card echoed the sentiment of the quote, recounting the travels Johnny and I had taken in and around the English countryside together. They also reminded me, minutes before I adorned my gown, that my year abroad had not been for naught.
Professors and students alike had warned me before I departed for Oxford that spending an entire year abroad would greatly jeopardize my standing as a Wellesley student upon my return to the United States. Fearing a loss of friendships that had taken two years to solidify, I hesitated in confirming my letter of unconditional acceptance into Oxford. I pondered whether the many wonderful women I had met as a first-year and sophomore would still find a place for me in their lives after a year of separation. Ultimately, I decided to make the sacrifice; to put the power of friendship to the test, and I boarded a flight to Heathrow.
Nine months later, and I stood with seventeen American visiting students, accepting my diploma in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. In the audience sat Johnny and three other wonderful British friends who had welcomed me into their world for the length of one academic year. Much like my Wellesley friends, all of whom I had maintained continuous contact with thanks to the wonderful invention of Skype, I knew that my new British circle of friends would continue to play an important role in my future travels and academic experiences.
After the ceremony, I stood beside my American and British friends, enjoying champagne (a constant at any catered Oxford event), strawberries and cream, and an assortment of fragmented conversations. Those precious post-graduation moments reaffirmed the longevity of the friendships I had formed. These individuals, who less than a year before had been total strangers, had welcomed me into their lives, and in return, I had allowed them to enter mine.
They had also given me a “second identity,” or new lens with which to view my future and make sense of my past. In place of the ethnocentric New Yorker, I had blossomed into a woman of the world, ready to tackle her next bout of wanderlust on another continent and with the assistance of a different group of individuals dedicated to reaching new intellectual and spiritual heights. In place of fearing the unknown, I was ready to embrace a lifetime of travel.
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