When making the decision to leave William & Mary for a semester to study abroad, I considered how it would affect my college friendships. Though I was always able to keep my relationships strong during breaks, the distance, length of time, and time change made this separation different. However, after reflecting on staying in touch with high school friends during college, I understood that my departure would strengthen friendships that were worth fighting for and clarify those that were not. Though I was nervous that I might be forgotten by everyone and come back my senior year with only a few friends, it was something that I was willing to risk. I also knew that studying abroad would help me understand how these friendships were going to change after graduation.
I am happy to report that I was able to return to school with a remarkably similar group of friends from when I left. I was pleasantly surprised by the effort so many made to stay in touch with me and keep me included. This experience also helped strengthen some friendships in unexpected ways. For example, I was able to bond with my friend who is living in the U.S. for the first time while in college. She was able to relate to experiences I had such as not recognizing any of the products in the grocery store, and miscommunications as a result of differing accents. Our new shared life experiences strengthened our friendship. Furthermore, I was able to diversify my group of friends by studying abroad. I met people with extremely different upbringings and cultures from me who challenged and pushed me to grow in acceptance, compassion, and understanding.
However, this is not to say that I am just as close with all my friends as I was before I left, or that my relationships did not alter while I was gone. There were inevitable bonding moments that I missed out on, and people who made keeping in touch a challenge. Preparing myself for this inevitable beforehand was helpful, but it still did not make these changes seamless. I had a few bumps along the way as we all navigated the change in my situation, but eventually most of us were able to find our new rhythm. Studying abroad makes me confident that even as my current friends spread across the country and world, they will remain committed to keeping the strong friendships that we formed at William & Mary.