When I was accepted to study abroad, I immediately began working through my Post-Decision check list. I reached the Travel Buddies component, and I was on the fence. This was supposed to be my journey, right? I wanted to make French friends so that I wouldn’t be tempted to speak English all the time, so that we could keep in touch forever and organize international reunions.
Sure, I thought, it would be cool to know the other KU students on my program, but I was more focused on international connections. I put my phone number and my email address down anyway and forgot about it.
Fast forward to August. One of my travel buddies, Carla, told me she would be in Paris with her mom the week before our program began, and as fate would have it, so would I, with my mom (and aunt) in tow as well.
We met in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on a Thursday, grabbed lunch, and walked to the Champs-Élysées. We talked about Paris, how the two of us had never traveled farther than Mexico with our families. Flying into Charles de Gaulle and stepping out in the Parisian streets opened up a whole new world for us. Were we ready for it?
We didn’t know then, so we stopped in a bakery and decided to talk some more over an espresso and a pastry.
While she still had a few more days in Paris, I boarded a train to Angers to get the lay of the land before classes started. There, I met up with one of the other Travel Buddies on my list, Alexander. He had been in town for a few days so he told us about his host family and what he had seen of the city so far.
I didn’t know then, and I didn’t even know after our celebratory drink the night before the program with Alexander, Carla, and Karleigh — after my mom and aunt had said their tearful goodbyes — how much they would my experience in Angers and at KU long after we returned from France.
Carla and I did not do everything together per se… Just lunch, our grocery shopping on the weekends, dinners out when our host families didn’t cook for us, and every single single trip out of Angers together. We braved the local marchés, riverside walks, cross-country bus trips (with our third musketeer, Middi, of course), and Alexander’s winter orchestra performance together. She very easily became my closest friend in Angers.
At the time, I could not say the same for Alexander. He was a little more aloof, didn’t care for the antics of the other CIDEF (our school abroad) students, and had decided to take 21 credit hours… (Yikes!) Although every once in a while, we would go on walks or grab lunch just the two of us and do our best to speak only French with each other.
Little did I know that these moments were laying the foundation for a lasting friendship.
When Alexander returned from his year in Angers, we got into the habit of getting together every couple of months to speak French and catch up. Then he graduated but stayed to pursue a Masters in French at KU, and so we started chatting a lot more frequently and hanging out with our mutual friends in the department — always speaking French, of course.
These days, in confinement, I talk to Alexander once a week as we struggle to keep up our French outside of classes and to connect with people in such a lonely time.
As for Carla, we still keep in touch as best as possible, grabbing coffee or brunch whenever she’s back in the Lawrence area.
The truth is, though, however long we go without talking, we can always come back together as if we were still in Angers, or we just got back yesterday. Alexander and Carla began as my KU family abroad, but they’ve become my Angers family at home. We hold all of these transformational memories between us, and that draws us closer than any amount of coffee dates in the U.S.
Long story short, my Travel Buddies were an unforgettable and essential part of my study abroad experience. Two amazing people I likely never would have known otherwise, despite walking the same campus nearly every day, became two of my best friends in a matter of months — and I got to take them back to Kansas with me.
If you’re looking for lasting friendships on your study abroad program, start with the Travel Buddies Program.