Why be friends with someone who lives thousands of miles away? Why not just nip around the corner to your long-term bestie from your school days?
A few years ago, I wasn’t sure why anyone would put themselves through the pain of long-distance friendships. But after studying abroad in Germany, where I became friends with international students from all over the world, I am now certain that the pros far outweigh the cons.
Here’s why having friends around the world will make you an all-round more awesome person:
1. You learn some new lingo
One of the most obvious benefits to having international friends is the opportunity to share your languages. Even if you aren’t trying to learn your new friend’s language right now, you will find yourself picking up bits and pieces of their language regardless – whether that’s a simple phrase they use to greet their mother over the phone or a curse they use when they are frustrated. Some words might be seemingly niche and useless, but you are creating a personal memory bank of phrases that just might help you make a stranger smile on your next foreign holiday, or help you if you get lost in an unknown city.
2. You become more open-minded
One study found that students with international friends at a US university had ‘higher scores of open-mindedness and lower scores of intercultural apprehension’. This university, originally ‘known for its racial divisiveness’, has benefited from its students forging of international friendships through study abroad and exchange programs. If this is what can be achieved on a micro level, imagine all the cultural barriers we could kick down if we scaled this up across the world. So by establishing friendships abroad, you will not only become a well-rounded Weltbürger (‘citizen of the world’), you will also play an important part in creating a less divided, more inclusive world.
3. You enjoy deeper, more valuable friendships
When you’re missing someone who lives far away, it’s easy to scoff as people around you wistfully say, “well, you know, distance makes the heart grow stronger”, but it couldn’t be more true. Staying in touch with your international friends will be challenging at times, but it will certainly make you value the time you have together more. Contrary to popular belief, a study by the Journal of Communication published back in 2015 found that long-distance relationships can encourage a greater sense of intimacy between couples – and there’s no reason this can’t be the case for long-distance buddies, too.
An added bonus is the proven connection between practicing gratefulness and a sense of well-being, explained by Sonya Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness. So practice being thankful for all the short but sweet moments with international friends and become a happier, better version of yourself.
4. You always have a couch to sleep on
Now that we know international friendships are beneficial to the world and to your personal development, we can talk about the shallower advantages of having friends living on far-flung islands with sunny beaches and cocktail bars.
Since hotels and hostels are often one of the largest expenses to factor into holiday plans, wouldn’t it be awesome if you always had a friend’s sofa to crash on, anywhere in the world? You probably shouldn’t become friends with someone just so you can visit their country, but it’s still a great motivator for exploring new friendships. In this way, opening yourself up to new people is also opening yourself up to new places and experiences.
5. You get to have more authentic experiences (and avoid the tourist traps)
Taste authentic home-cooked pasta in your friend’s home in Italy. Attend a riverdance class with your Irish friend. Experience a real tea ceremony with your Chinese friend. Basically, avoid tourist traps and live like a local. Your international friends will be able to offer insider tips about the restaurant locals love and guide you through all those tricky, winding back streets.
In our commercial world, it can be a challenge to find authentic ways to travel and international friends provide a gateway into the realities of local life in their home country. Open yourself to new people, and amazing new experiences will follow.