How to Discover Lifelong Friendships in Faraway Places

If you travel to experience new cultures, you’re probably doing your best to meet local people and learn from them. And it’s lovely to spend an evening in a bar with a local or chat to someone standing next to you at an art gallery, but wouldn’t it be great to meet someone you could stay in touch with once you’ve returned home? A lasting friendship is better than any souvenir you could pack in your suitcase.

Friends
© notsogoodphotography (cc license)

Like any time you make friends in life, there’s no failsafe way to create a friendship. But I do have a few examples from my own experiences that might help you next time you’re traveling in a foreign land and wanting to get to know some locals more than just superficially.

Emailing Mohammed in Egypt

Sometimes friendships sneak up out of the blue. I was holidaying near the Red Sea in Egypt, and took the resort shuttle bus into the small town of El Quesir. Happily I discovered a village not overrun by tourists, yet with a few shops offering the typical Egyptian souvenirs of papyrus paintings and pyramid postcards.

Browsing in a small shop, alone, the young shop assistant came up to ask me if I needed any help. “Just looking,” I replied, and from these two words, Mohammed guessed that I was from Australia. He wanted to know which part and dragged out a large map of the world he had stashed behind the counter. “Western Australia,” I said, pointing to Perth, “but I live in Germany at the moment.” Together, we pored over the map, Mohammed asking me endless questions about places I’d been, and surprising me with his deep knowledge of geography and history. We ended up swapping email addresses and have kept in touch for years, exchanging ideas about the very different countries we live in.

The lesson: be open to chatting with anyone. Even someone who works in a souvenir shop is a potentially fascinating friend, not just a pushy salesperson.

Swimming with Zitka in Slovakia

Of course, if you’re lucky enough to stay in a foreign country in a more long-term situation, striking up close friendships with the locals gets much easier. Sharing a hobby or pastime certainly smooths the cultural differences.

While teaching English in Bratislava, I saw a student of mine several days in a row at my bus stop. We established that we lived near each other, and Zitka and I soon began meeting regularly to go swimming together at a large lap pool near her office. Our exercise routine soon led to weekend outings and a friendship that saw us both criss-cross the continent to visit each other.

The lesson: do what you enjoy and you’ll find local people around you who have the same interests — a great basis for a lasting friendship.

Learning Japanese from Sachiko

Friendly Japan is a perfect place to connect with locals, both because the Japanese are so receptive to foreigners and because they’re usually very keen to share their culture, too. I’m often reading about programs that bring locals and tourists together to learn about origami, cooking, martial arts or flower arrangement, to name just a few.

I met Sachiko through a great program where housewives are trained in teaching Japanese to foreigners, and offer lessons on a volunteer basis. Whether you’re in Japan for a week or a year, many organizations offer these kind of experiences. Sachiko taught me with such a smile on her face and made me keen to improve my Japanese; she was also a reliable source for me to ask about any unusual aspect of Japanese culture I’d witnessed. I’m proud that I can still send her postcards written in the basic Japanese that she taught me.

The lesson: pick an aspect of the culture that really interests you and find a way to meet locals who can teach you about it.

Discussing the Migrant’s Life with Andrea in Germany

When I travel, I usually expect the locals to be the ones who will teach me something about where I’m visiting. Sometimes I forget that they might also want to learn from me, but over a number of meals and walks with Andrea in southern Germany, we established a friendship that went both ways.

I was a foreigner in her country; she was contemplating a move to the States with her company. We discussed issues like culture shock and homesickness over great German food and wine, and she picked my brains about my experiences of living in other countries. Now that she’s migrated, I keep in touch with interest to see how she’s going.

The lesson: use your knowledge and experience to help someone out, and they’ll be your friend for life.

Making close friendships while you’re leading a transient lifestyle isn’t easy, but modern technologies like email and cheap phone calls have certainly made things simpler. Don’t ever feel like there’s no point making friends with people who live so far from your hometown, or worry about a language barrier limiting your friendship. Just be open to the new experiences you’ll get by meeting locals when you travel and you might be lucky enough to add a few fascinating new people to your address book.

One Response

  1. brian from nodebtworldtravel.com

    All good ways things happen naturally when you travel. Now with the Internet and social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn it is really easy to stay in touch once you meet someone. You can keep up with everyone without writing a single email.

    Reply

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