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Hanging On

My friends from high school

Part of studying abroad is making friends from different places, backgrounds, worlds. And part of the struggle when you leave is hanging on to those friendships. When you leave the world you entered to re-enter your own, it can be hard to stay in contact because your life sweeps you back up. At least, that’s what my friends in London are worried about. I, at the same time, worry that they’ll continue their experience at university, make new friends and completely forget about the times when I was there.

The thing we’re forgetting is that this has been done before. We were in one world during high school and many of us left it to go to college or university or higher education–whatever you want to call it, whatever it was. We promised to stay in contact with friends from home and stay up-to-date on their lives. Sometimes it happened and sometimes it didn’t. But the important thing is that it proves it is possible when the effort is made. With the magic of the Internet, we don’t even have to accumulate an outrageously expensive cell phone bill.

I am the girl from high school who has struggled to maintain contact with all the people I talked to during high school. I want to keep contact with the wide variety of friends I had–from the theater geeks to the nerds to the jocks–because they remind me why living is fun. Something I’ve learned about myself, since beginning college, is that I am reluctant to let go of my past no matter where my life is taking me. And when I lose contact with someone it hurts because I feel part of the past drifting away.

While I have come to terms with this loss of high school connections, I refuse to let it happen now. High school friendships, for me, were usually formed because we had the same classes. Now that we’re growing into our own, differences that weren’t a problem while we complained about an assignment or teacher or worked on a project now are much more pronounced. And while I still maintain contact with many people, some of them are connections I pick up because I’m home.

But now that friends are mostly found through common likes and experiences, there’s so much more to hold friends together. Through high school, I jumped from activity to activity and had such a large variety of interests that it was difficult to truly get to know the people involved. And the same is true at Wellesley. Many of my college friends were made because we did similar activities, not always because we had personalities that mixed to create fantastic conversation. My friends in London were different. Part of that is because I threw myself into this new environment and they helped me out which created something more. Another part is that the group I joined at the beginning are the people I stuck with to the end, for almost all social events. And it never got old.

My friends from high school

Many of my new friends, including the photographer!

As soon as it truly connected that the semester was ending I realized that this was a group of friends that I wanted to hang on to. And so I will. Facebook and Skype may make maintaining contact easier but it will still require effort. Wellesley will sweep back into my life and I will throw myself back into a long list of activities. The time difference will have to be faced but I will not lose contact with these friends simply because I have to talk to them in the middle of the afternoon. They are a group of friends that helped me learn all about me. They helped me discover my sweet side (the side that is usually hidden behind the tough let’s-get-things-done side) and my love for cooking. I can be silly and serious and motherly and childish and there is always someone who will respond appropriately.They almost always make me smile and laugh.

Since coming home, I’ve talked to almost everybody from the group. But I’ve also been on break and still have over a week until school begins. There’s been plenty of time for me to simply sit at my computer and wait for them to sign online. I have to face the fact that I will not Skype with people as often as I do now –and if they are swept up and move on, I have to let them go. But I will hang on for as long as I can. Friendships, no matter how painful the distance might be, are always worth the effort.

Sam Wu
Sam started traveling on the wrong foot and was every traveler’s pet peeve–the bawling baby who just couldn’t be silenced. Since then she has fallen in love with planes and boats and going places. Sam once studied abroad in London but is now slowly growing more roots in NYC.

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    3 Comments

    1. I’m a freshmen in college and I have to same feeling… At first, I kept contacting my old friends from high school, because I didn’t make any friends yet and neither did my friends. A semester goes by, I haven’t seen anyone yet during the winter break. Well…actually I have. I met my two closest friends for lunch one day and it was a weird experience. We didn’t have much to talk about. I guess you are right. In high school you make friends ’cause you guys are in the same class and deal with the same people. Anyways, that lunch had many awkward silences, fake laughs, and digging up old memories when there wasn’t anything to talk about. Sorry for the semi-long rant. I just wanted to say I agree with you. =D

    2. It’s always awesome hearing that someone agrees and has a shared experience! There have been many shared lunches or cafe breaks that have been full of memories, which are always entertaining, but I want to go beyond into the “now”.

      The thing is that sometimes a couple of years will pass and someone will reach out again. Don’t reject the overtures because they can lead to a great reconnect! It’s pretty nice having friends you’ve known since you were young.

    3. I definitely agree that saying goodbye is one of the hardest parts of studying abroad. I’ve studied in England, Paris, and most recently, Canada. The friends I’ve remained closest to are those with whom I exchange letters. Handwritten ones.

      No matter how busy you are, how many graduate school/job applications you may be battling, there is always time to write a letter (or even a postcard). And in return for those fifteen minutes, you’ll find a response in the mailbox exactly when you’re missing them the most. Reading someone’s letter and knowing that their words are meant just for you (after all, there is no copy and paste option), can be heartwarming.

      I exchanged letter with a friend in Germany for 2 years. Then, when I went to Paris, we met up again…and it was as if nothing had changed.

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