April 19, 2013
Friends Abroad- Second Edition
I wrote a blog almost a year ago, to the day, about friendships that are developed while travelling, studying or volunteering abroad. I recently lost one of my best friends that I met while studying abroad in Australia, who passed away unexpectedly on April 3, 2013. Drew Swan was an amazing person with amazing insight on life. His personality was contagious, as we influenced people from all walks of life on a daily basis. It was as if he knew something that all of us ‘common folk’ didn’t know. He was always a beat ahead of everyone around him and he was always ‘that guy.’ Have you ever met a person that could have control of a room of twenty people within seconds of walking in? Without effort, this was Drew: charisma, dashing good looks, genuine soul, and great friend.
I stumbled upon this blog entry from last year and liked it so much that I wanted to add to it and re-post a second edition.
Serving as a Peace Corps volunteer gives me a unique opportunity to develop friendships and foster truly genuine relationships. I have always had a theory about developing friendships while travelling or while being in situations that calls for individuals to think outside the box. This is when we as humans are the most venerable and the most susceptible to new situations and new relationships.
I had a friend ask me about my friends before I left for the Peace Corps, but he didn’t ask about all of my friends, he only asked about my friends that I met while travelling. He questioned me on how close I could possibly get to these people after knowing them for only a short period of time. I have known my friends from home for a significant part of my life; we have the unbreakable bond of location and sense of place attached with Fort Collins, Colorado. We also have elementary, Jr. High school, High school and even university together. These bonds are strong and will always be strong. What about the people that we meet when we travel? How can become such close friends if we only have an infinite amount of time to make a connection? Are these friendships real? Are they deep enough to invest some of our hard to obtain trust into? Or are they going to just walk out of our lives, never to be seen again?
I actually have a few ideas about this topic and I have done a lot of thinking about it because this subject is very fascinating to me. When I studied abroad in Australia I learned how to fly alone. This meaning that I no longer had my family 5 minutes away from me, I was on my own. But are we ever really on our own? We have people all around us. (Unless you are going to pull a Bear Grills and head off into the wilderness alone.) I found that I gravitated toward people that were looking for the same thing as me, an interim. These friendships are usually formed very quickly and are usually formed very strong.
When you are travelling you are in an unfamiliar world and the safest place to be is with other people who are in the same boat or even better to befriend the people that call your “unfamiliar world,” home. When you have no family, you are quick to form bonds that will fill in the need to belong and to be accepted in a social situation. Once your physical needs are taken care of and you are safe, the next thing you need is the feeling of belonging to a social group. This is where travelers will click automatically.
I have experienced this all over the world; Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, and countless international trips with my family over the years. When I went to New Zealand with one friend, we had to make friends throughout the whole trip in order to make the trip successful. These are people that we might not have talked to if we were back home. I call this the Petri dish effect. When you are travelling every social encounter no matter how brief will be put into a Petri dish so it will foster and multiply quicker than ever! Under normal circumstances this relationship might not have gone anywhere, but in the travelling Petri dish, the relationship fosters and takes root deep within each of us.
In the context of Peace Corps it has even more twists and turns associated with it. We are all going to be very similar, yet very diverse people. We all had our own reasons for joining the Peace Corps and we all have our own ideas and perceptions associated with our dreams. We are already in a Petri dish before we even leave the country. When we get into our host country we click and we form bonds that are unbreakable. We are a team and we are all going through training together, learning language together and getting sick together. We are all here to support each other through the maze that is ahead of each of us. All of our mazes are going to be different, but sure enough, we can understand and instruct our friends through their mazes.
When you get a group of people that identify with a cause it intensifies the Perti dish theory. We all act as one entity to accomplish goals and to more forward as group. We fail together and we succeed together. We possess a knowledge bank that is full of past experiences and different interpretations of the same information. Because everything is new to the traveler the part of the brain that processes new information is always working overtime. We learn how to decode mass amounts of information in a very short period of time and make decisions based on intuition and spontaneity. This also enables us to open our minds to new relationships and new ideas. When a person has the opportunity to learn and discuss new ideas with a stranger they will tend to gravitate toward similar ideals and strengthen relationships. When your mind is in this social mindset, it tends to want to agree with people and open the social channel rather than to disagree and risk closing off any social potential that potentially exists.
Simply when you travel you will form relationships with like-minded people that will be deep and genuine in a very short period of time. Here in Ethiopia I feel that I am close every volunteer in my group. There are differing levels within that initial connection maybe because of access or time spent nurturing said relationships. These friendships will continue to grow over the rest of my service and will become life-long friendships.
So to address the discussion in the beginning of this blog about how friends from home are different than travelling friends: they are not. A good friend is a good friend no matter where and when you meet them. It might happen over the course of growing up in your hometown or it might happen over the course of years, months, days or even hours, but the bottom line is friends are like family and friends can get you through anything. I love all of my friends back home and I miss the hell out of you all!!! I also am very happy to have all of my friends that I have met while travelling this very tiny world and I hope to one day come and visit every single one of you. I can not finish without mentioning my Peace Corps friends, you are a special breed and we will forever have a special bond based on experience.
Recently, my close-knit network of friends from my study-abroad experience in Australia and my closest friends here in Ethiopia crossed paths in order to deal with tragedy. One of my best friends, Drew Swan, passed away unexpectedly on April 3, 2013. I had studied with Drew at Griffith University in the Gold Coast, Australia. He was the glue that held our Aussie family together that consisted of three other American guys, a couple American girls, a Canadian, a Norwegian and a heap of Aussie blokes. We all go to know each other in this travel petri dish I like to call the Aussie Experiment. An experiment it was!
I had the pleasure of spending over four months with Drew in Australia and I also was lucky enough to have him all to myself as we braved a 10-day vacation to New Zealand together. There I was able to get to know the Drew that not a lot of people did. He opened up to me quickly and I opened right up to him. As if we needed a stronger travelling equation to make us both more vulnerable to one another, we left the “comfort” of Australia and went to a different petri dish called New Zealand.
We went skydiving, hiking to glaciers, flipping and totaling our rental car, seeing wild animals, singing songs, drinking and partying (not while driving), over-documenting everything we did, talking and conversing like we had just met. We had the trip of a lifetime and no one will ever take that away from us.
Drew was a best friend. Drew was a travel friend. I only saw Drew in Australia, New Zealand and when our Aussie family had a reunion in Colorado, my home state. I did not grow up with Drew. I did not go to high school with the kid. I travelled with him and “studied” abroad in Australia. I had a nickname for the kid: Inertia. Inertia: a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. Drew was my external force. For those of you that met him and knew him, he had an implausible ability to inspire people to change course and to dream on. After my trip to New Zealand, and after we flipped and totaled our rental car, (walking away without a sctratch), my course of life was forever changed. Inertia.
The Aussie family is a unique group of people and everyone had their vices, but I love each and every one of those guys and gals like family. When Drew passed away I had to turn to another family here in Ethiopia. I turned to my Peace Corps family; my girlfriend, my best friend and countless other volunteers that live and thrive in my Ethiopian petri dish. I also talked to my friends back in my hometown of Ft. Collins and my other friend who is also serving in the Peace Corps in Ukraine. (Also from Ft. Collins, childhood friend)
I have realized that friendship and family are not defined by time, location or experiences. They are defined by love, compassion and that quintessential, organic bond that exists between two human beings. I love my friends back home, I love my Aussie family and I love my Peace Corps friends.
Our friends define us and shape who we are.
Drew Swan- you will always walk the path of life with me and I will always remember who you were to me. A friend. A petri dish friend. Drew, it was a pleasure to know you and it was a pleasure to walk this earth next to you.
I love you. Rest in Peace.
Dedicated to: Drew (Inertia) Swan (April 10, 1988-April 3, 2013)