THE DYESSERTATION: Friends can become family for students studying abroad

_Ashley Dye is a senior journalism and telecommunications major and writes ‘The Dyessertation’ for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper or The Daily. Write to Ashley at acdye@bsu.edu._

The most terrifying aspect of study abroad is knowing it’s time to make friends all over again, an act that gets harder with age.

It’s even harder in a foreign language.

Before I left Spring Semester 2013 for "Rennes, France":http://www.tourisme-rennes.com/en/home.aspx, I had a handful of nightmares about social interactions. My mind was convinced that I didn’t know French well enough to successfully live out a dream that was multiple years in the making. My accent was too American, too timid, and it felt like my knowledge was too minimal to express myself. I went over with another Ball State student, but we needed to branch out and make our own friend groups. Within the first week or so in the city, my heart was still heavy with the fear of making acquaintances and nothing more.

At one point, my mind concocted a situation where I was a complete loner. It would have been the worst semester of my life. Briefly but intensely, I didn’t feel like I belonged.

It’s hard to be more than 4,000 miles away from those closest to you, even if you want nothing more than to study in another country. No longer were they just an immediate text or phone call away.

There wasn’t anyone.

Despite my fears, I made friends. It was much easier to do than I thought, and that’s because it can be very difficult to not make friends on a college campus — friendships usually form, even if it’s just an acquaintance level. Even if it’s with a language you aren’t fluent in.

But more importantly, I made a family of friends. Ohana, our little group, was made up of other study abroad students. I knew instantly that I could count on them. After all, they were dealing with the same emotions.

Nearly every Sunday night, we made an effort to cook dinner together, from chicken and dumplings to fajitas to galettes. These dinners would last for hours over loud conversations.

They helped me become less hesitant to say yes to any adventure, even if that meant an adventure as small as taking the bus out to explore a neighborhood and wooded area with a walking stick taller than me, culminating in one of the most idyllic moments set to The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition.”

I felt so at ease as if I had known them for most of my life, and I began to love them as much as a friend could, realizing they are some of the best people on this planet.

Certainly, my Ohana wasn’t the only cause of my love for Rennes and Bretagne, nor was it the only reason I finally felt a sense of purpose in a city. But without my friendship family, it’s possible I would not have gotten to know the area as much or immersed myself in the culture as much. While we spoke primarily English to each other, there weren’t efforts to change life there into what we knew back home.

The bond of a study abroad family is strong; after all, we grew together. Studying abroad forces you to become more self-sufficient, but not alone. Instead of panicking by myself in my room, I could express my fears, no matter how small, without judgment.

My French university, "Université Rennes 2":http://www.univ-rennes2.fr/en, offered a program where a French student shows the incoming student around and helps them get adjusted to life in Rennes. While some of my friends ended up making friendships through that, my French student never contacted me and I didn’t feel like bothering with it. In retrospect, I should have fought harder against my anxiety and gone for it, to help speed up the adjustment.

"Similar programs":http://www.ballstatedaily.com/article/2014/02/university-program-helps-students-mix-with-american-families can mean so much to a person worlds away from home. Even smaller gestures can help people become more comfortable.

For study abroad, it’s not just about education from the university. The experience is made mostly outside of the classroom, learning about the culture and becoming part of that. It can be extremely difficult to break into a way of life without a sort of support system from those doing it as well or from citizens of the host country.

Without that, the experience loses its worth and appeal. No one remembers the countless university assignments, but it’s hard to forget the friends who became family.

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