After arriving back in the United States, someone (actually, multiple people) asked me the question I had been dreading the most, “What was your favorite part about your trip?”
Well, first I feel like using the word “trip” does this experience injustice. For myself and many others, it wasn’t just a trip. It was five incredible months of putting my life in the US on hold and making a new home for myself on the other side of the world. And my favorite part? I have no idea how I’m supposed to pick one moment, or one place, out of everything I had encountered in the past five months of studying and traveling around Asia. So I didn’t. Instead, I told him about the people I was lucky enough to meet and travel with.
“You just spent an entire semester abroad, went to four different countries, and the first thing that comes to mind are the people?” Absolutely.
When I was getting ready for my semester abroad this past January, I certainly had hoped I would make some new friends while I was living in Thailand. I had no idea that the friendships I made would be friendships I will cherish for the rest of my life. The friendships you make abroad are so, so different than the friendships you have at home. People that haven’t studied abroad have a difficult time understanding this. While abroad, you are suddenly thrown together with a select group of people, left with no other choice than to go out and explore together. You share experiences that are so breathtakingly-perfect, they really do feel too good to be true. This is when it’s helpful to have a friend by your side to remind you where you are. These ‘reality checks’ are actually something we did often.
If someone were to ask “Sophie, where are you right now?” I might reply “I am riding a bicycle through the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam!” or “I am kayaking in the Andaman Sea in Krabi!” or my all time favorite response “I am standing on top of a pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar watching a sunrise!”
All of these moments were moments I’ll never forget, but they would not be nearly as awesome without my travel partners. With your friends abroad, you bond over personal problems quicker than you ever would with people back home, homesickness, significant other issues, “broken stomachs” as the Thai people refer to food poisoning, among other challenges. By week four, you’ve developed a level of friendship you didn’t know could be reached so quickly. I realize that not everyone is so lucky in creating these relationships while abroad, which is why I feel so grateful that I did.
The most important thing I learned in my time in Asia is that it’s not where you are, but who you are with that’s important. Sure, these places are all absolutely beautiful, but it’s the people you surround yourself with that make the memories stick. I found I enjoyed my time the most when I was surrounded by positive people that could appreciate the little things just as much as me.
I am thankful for the relationships I formed. They exceeded any and all of my expectations, but it has made returning home to the US quite challenging. None of us live particularly close to each other, and it is a very strange feeling to go from spending every waking hour with them to all of a sudden not seeing them for months at a time. However, despite the distance, I’m happy to say our group chat has not been “inactive” for more than one day at a time, and we are all still keeping closely in touch. I think it’s safe to say that part of my heart will always be in Thailand, the place that became so much more than home to me.