As the old cliché goes, a year abroad is one of the best years of your life, a chance to find yourself, to grow as a person. For me, this was undeniably true. I learnt loads about myself. I also learnt a lot about the people I had left behind.
Embarking on a year abroad is a challenge, mostly because you’re moving away from the people you care about. You promise yourself, and them, that you’ll stay in touch. And at the start, it’s easy, everyone wants to know how everyone else is getting on. Some people love it, some people struggle. You support each other, because that’s what friends do. But as the weeks stretch on and you get into the flow of a new life, a new adventure, people start to slip between the cracks. No friendship is perfect. Some people you forget, and others forget you. This is the real test, because if it’s real, you put in the effort. There are the friends you manage to check in on a regular basis. The friends you can go the longest time without speaking to and nothing changes. And sometimes, distance makes you realise that the friendship isn’t as strong as you thought. This is the first thing that I realised on my year abroad. Friendships are not a given, they take effort, as obvious as that may seem, but that must be a two-way street. Distance allowed me to realise that this wasn’t always the case, that sometimes you’re the only one who puts that effort in, and that these friendships are unhealthy.
The second thing that I learnt on my year abroad was that not all friendships are made to last. Sometimes, they are ‘convenient’, for the then and there. The girl you meet on the first day, perhaps to whom you wouldn’t have spoken, save for the fact that you and she are in the same boat, and it’s nice to have someone there. You’re both using each other, but you both know it, so that’s okay. Humans aren’t made to be alone. These friendships, then, have an unspoken expiry date, but that doesn’t make them any less real. You’ll have fun together, you’ll support each other as best you can, and, when the time comes, you’ll both go your separate ways. That bittersweet goodbye, when you know that it’s the end of one stage of your life, that you’ll be moving on, alone, to the next.
Distance can also make you realise that a friendship is true. A year abroad is a huge challenge, your real friends will live that experience with you, and you with them, even if it’s just through shared stories. This year taught me which of my friends would be there for me, through the thick and the thin. The shoulder to cry on, the voice that cheers you on. Those true friends weren’t the people I had expected because, as a rule, we tend to overlook what is solid and reliable for what is attractive in the moment. Distance taught me to be grateful for what is real, because you only need one or two people in your life, if they are the right people.