So you might have spent years slogging through formal education, taking courses, scraping through modules, reading voraciously and upskilling in certain areas to progress in your career.
These are all excellent ways to broaden your horizons and shape your mind; but there’s nothing quite as educational as forming (and maintaining) international friendships.
Befriending someone from a different country, who has a different mother tongue, is perhaps one of the most challenging yet rewarding educations you can ever grant yourself. You’re never more motivated to learn than when your mate’s cultural references include characters and brands that have you frantically slapping phrases into Google – just so you can get the joke.
I feel entirely energised and grateful for my friends’ company
From my time travelling and living abroad, I’ve made lifelong friends from places like China, France, Ecuador, Venezuela, the Czech Republic and Colombia. While it’s not always easy to pin my friends down and spend time with them, whenever we do meet up I feel entirely energised and grateful for their company. With them, any time we hang out becomes an unintentional (and highly enjoyable) lesson in life.
Making new friends can get progressively more difficult throughout life. But – whether it’s a pal from that intimidating French exchange you were coaxed into aged 12, a colleague from work who’s now moved abroad or a fellow adventurer you meet while travelling – international friendships have so much to offer. Here’s why:
Insight into different cultures
Having friends from different countries gives you insight into different cultures without you even realising it’s happening.
Maybe it’s an anecdote from their childhood, or tales of how birthdays are typically celebrated in their country. Perhaps they confide in you about a habit or trait that they find infuriating because in their culture it’s deemed rude. Either way, international friends open your eyes to different ways of living and viewing the world.
I was horrified when my Czech friend insisted on paying for the entire bill at a dinner to celebrate her birthday. I told her that in the UK, typically your friends pay for your meal on your birthday, not the other way around. But she insisted that for her, paying for the whole meal was a way of thanking everyone for coming to celebrate her birthday.
International friends open your eyes to different ways of living
Likewise, I got a nasty surprise on my birthday in Ecuador when, after I was sung to, my Ecuadorian friends proceeded to dunk my face in the icing-laden cake before me. They couldn’t contain their laughter while I wiped icing out of my eyes, explaining to me that this was a tradition in Ecuador; having your loved ones shove your face into your birthday cake.
Your friend’s stories of their hometown or native country will likely give you way more insight into a place than any guide book ever could; which makes the sharing of memories, jokes and tales with international friends that bit more eye-opening and exciting.
Endless travel options
Naturally, having international friends means that you’ll always have somewhere to visit and a local, knowledgeable guide to show you around.
Sometimes all we need is that gentle reminder from a friend living far away that planning a far-flung escape is just what we need; friends living abroad are a great source of travel inspiration.
If you live a significant distance from your friend, there’s always the excuse to meet each other halfway and explore a new place together, too.
My Chinese friend and I met while teaching in South America. When she told me she’d moved to Barcelona to study for a Master’s, you bet I planned a solo trip to Spain purely to be reunited with her.
A gateway for self-reflection
Having international friends and hearing their perspectives leaves you no choice but to open your mind and also question why you hold the views you do.
It can also help you to face up to any prejudices you might be holding. Whether you hold the same world views and values as your friend, or entirely different ones, the sharing of cross-cultural experiences and stories is certainly food for thought. These encounters encourage you to reflect on why you think the way that you do, and how your take on the world was influenced by your upbringing.
Perhaps you weren’t even aware of your prejudices until your international friend shared something that made you reflect. Your friend’s views might just trigger you to reconsider some long-held beliefs and open you to new perspectives.
Informal language lessons
It’s likely you wouldn’t neglect your friend or ignore their messages the same way you would with the Duolingo owl and its reminders to get back to your vital vocab lesson.
Having friends with different mother tongues to yours means that you end up picking up new phrases just by going about your day-to-day life together; the best way possible to learn a language.
Perhaps they burst out with a passionate expletive while watching a sports match; or they can’t help but describe their feelings using an idiom that only really works in their native tongue.
This results in you picking up new words and expressions on the hop; and equally, you become an impromptu language teacher, too.
Up your food game
Having friends from different cultures means you’ll likely be lucky enough to learn about delicacies from their countries and cultures.
If you’re really lucky, your international friend will be a whizz in the kitchen – or at the very least, so enthusiastic about sharing their favourite dish that they’ll whip up their best version of it.
You’ll learn about delicacies from different countries and cultures
Take it from me, there’s no greater luxury than having a fresh ratatouille cooked for you by a gastro-enthusiast Frenchman. Or when your Colombian friend calls her mother to check her recipe for the ultimate comfort food: homemade patacones con hogao (fried plantain with a tomato and onion sauce).
This, in turn, will get the cogs going in your brain about what your nation’s best gastronomic offerings are. Personally, I’ll be polishing my Yorkshire pudding recipe for years to come before sharing it with my kitchen-savvy international friends.
Friends from sunrise to sunset
The beauty of having international friendships is that you have a network of friends available at all hours of the day.
Admittedly, having friends so far away can sometimes be difficult; there’s nothing like spending time in person with those you hold dear. But on the bright side, if you’re in need of a chat at 2am in your time zone, having friends around the world means you’ll always have someone just a FaceTime away.
It’s also pretty great on special occasions, like birthdays and when celebrating New Year’s, to send and receive wishes at all times of day from your international network of mates.
Needless to say, international friendships are a special thing to be treasured. And what better way to form them than by setting off on a Flask Pack journey with like-minded solo travellers?
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