One of the really interesting dynamics about living abroad is how quickly you can make new friends with other travelers. Not just acquaintances, but the types of friends you sit around all night talking about the meaning of life, your childhood pet fish, the challenges of helping the poor and you can really question if all this effort is actually going somewhere (something you dont dare say out loud too often), and your hope and wish to find someone to love. Its like its somehow easier to make that kind of connection, in this context, than with people you might have know your whole life.
I’ve thought about it a lot, and i think it comes from a lot of different things. Both being foreigners in a strange land, so there is automatic shared experience of trying to make sense of a new culture, finding the same peculiarities frustrating (the fear of crossing the street and getting your legs taken out by a moto) or hilarious (but of course you can buy cooking oil by the cup, delivered to your house in a plastic bag). So you can offer each other little tips (from how to avoid getting ripped off by taxi drivers) to great places to visit (Hotel Casa Robinson in Las Terrenas is cheap and beautiful!).
And you have more free time to dedicate to just spending time with people. Unless youre around for the long-haul of multiple years, you probably dont have 3 activity clubs you belong to, a sports league, family commitments, yoga classes and 10 other obligations that force you to have to schedule time with friends ten weeks in the future. Weekends and nights are empty and if you dont find other people to spend it with, rather lonely. So us expats are drawn to each other’s company out of necessity. Especially when you’re new, you dont have that group of friends youve know since first grade, so you’re forced into being more open to meeting new people.
But beyond the lack of family and familiarity of home, I think these easy connections also happen, because the effort of leaving comfort and home behind and then coming and living in a developing country acts as sort of a filter as well. It takes someone who’s a bit more adventurous, wants to learn new cultures, loves traveling and exploring, and if their working for some sort ngo, they also have some idealistic hopes of improving the world (even if its buried under a surface layer of cynicism).
So when everyone back homes doesnt get why I would leave behind the safety and comfort that is the US, leave behind everything familiar-even my family-then you finally meet someone else who gets it too. They understand what it is to struggle through learning a new language, and then slowly start to make sense of it. They get to elation that comes from driving through the topical mountains in the back of a pickup truck packed in with 20 hondurans. They also know what it is to miss thanksgivings with family. Or the deep drive to try to find meaning out of life and somehow make just the smallest difference in the world, even while struggling with feeling if you should even be here at all.
CS Lewis explains it so well when he says, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one!”