on friendship in a foreign environment

(excerpted from an e-mail to chris)

weekends are strange here. they’re never really a full retreat, because i live on campus. i can have a glorious morning in my pajamas, reading, drinking tea, eating not-dining-hall-food, and then experience a jolt/reminder of reality when i leave my apartment and run into teenage girls cooking ramen on the dorm stove just a few feet down the hall. i don’t really resent it- my dorm is probably the best on campus (upperclassmen girls= clean, quiet, generally academically oriented; also it’s the smallest, with only 20ish kids)- but it means i don’t often feel that i’m fully my private self. obviously this is compounded by the fact that i’ve only been here a few months and my friendships are still nascent. the friendship thing is peculiar and fascinating to my sociophilic mind. i find myself being friends with people that in another context i might not be. but, they are funny and smart and loyal, and being new and in a foreign environment means loyalty matters more than it would otherwise.  

to be fair, the same thing happens in the first few months when you’re new anywhere- i remember being friends with certain people in my first few months in high school after i moved that later, i was like, why did i know them?? (but also i was proud of the fact that i had friends from very different circles). same thing at college. some friendships i maintained, and some i didn’t. but being an adult gives added weight to relationships. i know myself better and have clearer expectations, at least in my own mind, for what kind of people i want my friends to be. 


socially, and kind of surprisingly, i am sustained by the deep friendships i have with people back home. even just thinking about those friendships gives me enough to live on. i have friends here, but no one that is super close yet. too many are still ‘activity partners’, as craiglist would say. we haven’t had enough in-depth conversation or shared enough experience yet. 

how do you choose friends? i think i generally choose them by sense of humor. although i realized recently that i like to think about people’s attitudes towards learning. are they generally curious? do they like new things? will they listen to me talk about an article i read even though it has no bearing on their own life or mine? the way i framed it to myself was: attitude towards your own ignorance. do you condemn and hide your own ignorance, or do you acknowledge it? i like to think i accept and admit to it. i think i have felt the most ignorant being here since i have in the past five years (my first year at Codman was a year of major learning). actually, though, it’s just as much academic ignorance – conversations in the history department office that make me realize i know less- as cultural ignorance. i know the academic ignorance is a legacy from my nontraditional high school/college career, and i’m basically ok with it. i am willing to have sacrificed familiarity with the names of all the heads of state in medieval Europe for a curiosity and critique of world systems of oppression. ok, i just made that up. it’s not mutually exclusive. but i am proud of my funky educational past.


i think you choose friends based on who corroborates your reality.

what’s interesting, though, is how much they can expand it. 


One thought on “on friendship in a foreign environment

  1. re loyalty mattering more: sure, when we’re uncertain of our standing, we need it to ground us and guard our backs. I think most of us want it whatever the circumstances, but when we’re already empowered, we like to cling to the illusion that we don’t need it.

    re old friends : they’re the velveteen rabbits of adult life; it’s possible to not see them for a long time then get together again and pick up as if it were only a few days.

    re a funky, radical liberal arts education that teaches how to review evidence, ask questions, think for ourselves, and resist automatically bowing down to established authority: it’s the best, especially now in the internet age when university professors no longer have a stranglehold on sources of information [which is not the same thing as knowledge, education, or wisdom].

    cheers to the phrase, “corroborate our reality” — even if I am tone deaf, I like to think of it as humming in harmony with some improvisations of their own on the main melody we both hear.


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