The last few months I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time getting to know some students from other countries. They come from all over the world with the intent of studying English, and by some divine orchestration they have all landed here, in Southern California.
I think the majority of them leave home with two goals in mind: to learn English, and to experience life in America. But I honestly believe that they gain so much more than they ever could have imagined. Sure, they certainly make substantial improvements in their language abilities, and yes, they get to see what life is like in the grand US of A. But what’s not advertised in their study abroad brochures are the countless friendships that will forever change their lives.
Whether they come from Saudi Arabia or Brazil, from Japan or from Mexico, they will meet others, just like them, from opposite sides of the globe. Palestinians grow close to Russians, Chinese befriend Germans, and all of them create friendships with Americans. These relationships are priceless.
For some, a common language creates a bond. For others, English is the medium through which they must connect. But language is much more than words. Smiling is a language. Laughter is a language. Both tears and hugs are universal. The inability to articulate a thought is no barrier for communication. It is a small hurdle easily traversed by friendship.
From my perspective, I have now visited handfuls of countries without ever boarding a plane. I have been to Korea and Tajikistan, to Switzerland and Taiwan. I’ve learned phrases and greetings in multiple languages; I’ve tried food from numerous kitchens; and I’ve made lifelong friends from all over the world. I have the pleasure of helping them learn English, but we all get to share so much more than that.
Cultures are shared, mixed, and intertwined. Each of our lives are reshaped and redefined. None of us walk away the same person because we’ve each left our marks on each other. And each of us is a better person because of it. There are no words to express how meaningful these friendships are. There’s no price tag that could equate what they’re worth. They are simply a blessing.
When their time here comes to an end, it’s beyond bittersweet. The homesickness gives way to a deep sadness as they realize that they now must say goodbye to close friends they never knew they’d meet. I, too, carry a heavy heart when their time comes. But I don’t dwell on the sting of that moment. Instead I acknowledge the reasons why it stings so much: the conversations we’ve had, the laughter we’ve shared, and the friendships we’ve forged. It’s beyond worth it. And the way I see it, all we’ve done is open more doors. All of our doors are always open to one another, and whenever our paths cross in the future, it will be a joyous occasion and another priceless moment.