1. They know you out of context
Whether you’re in a fraternity, sorority, service organization, sports team, or part of the quidditch club, you go into study abroad with a stigma written on your forehead. Some people band together based on mutual friends or past common classes. While that may give them a semblance of stability in the beginning, you soon realize that the Greek letters on someone’s shirt or their make-shift magic broom isn’t what defines them. They don’t know that you were the one who barfed on the bus to formal. They don’t know that you were the one who made everyone evacuate the on campus dorms because you started a small fire in your room. When you’re abroad, whatever your stereotype is and however it defined you back on your home campus, doesn’t hold any weight anymore. I’m sorry but being a brother Pi Tau Gonad isn’t going to help you when you’re lost in Barcelona at 3 AM. The friends you meet and make while abroad know you in the context of “life.” It’s refreshing to meet complete strangers once you get past your initial judgment of them, and it can be almost just as refreshing to start clean yourself.
2. They don’t judge you
We all make mistakes… and you will probably make more than you care to share when you are “studying” abroad. But honestly, you live by your own form of YOLO. The mistakes you will make abroad may suck in the moment. But your friends will be there to experience it all with you and when the mistake is your fault, they understand that traveling is hard. And in that difficult moment, life as we know it is just so fucking hard. Whether the mistake is as extreme as you not realizing that the train ticket from Zurich to Interlaken would be 200 Euros or as small as you making out with the potential 16 year-old because he bought you a drink. You can apologize about how you misread the Swiss website and you can defend yourself by saying “He said he was 19!” as much as you want, but when it comes down to it, your abroad friends don’t judge. Because let’s be honest, it could have been them.
3. They know your limits
Yes, you DO go to class when you’re abroad. But, yes, you basically DO also drink every day when you’re abroad. Honestly, it can be like a never-ending flow of beer, cheap tequila, and Jägerbombs. But how do you know when enough is enough? You don’t. That’s why you have your abroad friends there. They know when you need to be cut off. They’re the ones who pull you back when you decide to grab some foam out of a stranger’s full stein of beer at Oktoberfest. They’re the ones who grab your forearm when the Italian in a full Adidas sweatsuit grabs you by the waist. While having fun and “doing you” is all fine and dandy when abroad, you always need your friends there to sometimes hold you back and remind you of the movie “Taken.”
4. They know what food you like
You share countless meals together when you’re abroad. Whether it is a small on-the-go snack or a random restaurant you stumble upon. You learn that Gillian needs her Coca Cola fix to function (nope Diet Coke will never cut it). You learn that Sasha is allergic to peanuts and you’ll even remind her to ask the waiter when she forgets. You learn that Jake loves Pretzels and will buy one whenever a stand appears. They know you’re the one that can’t stand radishes and is lactose intolerant. And they’ll be there to remind you that drunkenly drinking that milkshake will not settle with your stomach in 10 minutes. But you’ll also be there to flip them off and yell “fuck it!”
5. They can read your emotions
After being with these individuals for so long AND for so many hours in the day, you start to understand each other’s body language and bitch faces. While you can see when someone is just in a slump from exhaustion or an inevitable bad grade, you can tell when something is really bothering one of your comrades. Maybe something happened back at home or maybe they aren’t having the experience they thought they would. Either way, your friends can see your emotions no matter how well you try to hide them. And it’s a good thing. Don’t destroy your time abroad by trying to keep any negative emotions in. Let it out and move on.
6. They know essentially every fact about you
Your parents. Your siblings. Your friends. Your major. Your pet’s names. Your favorite color. Your parents’ occupations. Your type. Your shoe size. Your fears in life. Your biggest pet peeve. Your favorite snack in 3rd grade. Your choice for the most difficult “Would You Rather?” question invented. They know it all. What else are you going to do when you’re on that 5-hour train ride to Prague, or when you’re waiting in line for the museum Trip Advisor insisted you go to. And somehow, sharing so much about yourself isn’t as scary as it was in America.
7. They’ve seen you at your worst
Picture it: You’re hot, sweaty, tired, and hungry as you wander around trying to find your damn hostel. Someone shines a light on the map and says “Wait, I think it’s this way” as they point to a building as their eyes are still looking down. You yank the map from them in frustration and attempt to read the damn thing as your eyes fill with tears of panic and anger. You have become a monster and you don’t care who sees it. You boss your friends around and roll your eyes at their “incompetence.” Yet still, they understand. They get it. You’re all pissed. You’re just the one who’s letting is show the most. But no harm, no foul, you will eventually make it home and tomorrow will be a new day.
8. They look out for you
“Wait up guys, we have to find Bobby.” A phrase said perhaps once a night when you’re abroad. It’s no secret that when you go out with such a large group, people will separate and people will get lost from each other. But the number one rule very abroad-er should follow is: NEVER LEAVE ANYONE BEHIND. And as the nights progressed you realized how important this rule really is. You look out for each other’s safety like it’s your fucking job. Girls will usually run around the club trying to find Sam as he buys yet another Heineken. And guys will push away any unwanted advances of creeps with that All-American confidence. No matter how trashed you all might be or how desperate you are to get out of your heels, you never leave a fellow abroad-er behind.
9. They’ve fought with you
It’s impossible to spend this much time with people and expect to get along. There will be disagreements, fights over directions, heat of the moment insults. But that’s what makes these friendships amazing. The fact that you can dish out what you’re really thinking and move on from it in a flash is an incredible friendship gift. These fights aren’t usually detrimental. And they will almost make you respect the person more. These arguments do bring you closer together… just leave out the out-of-pocket, under the belt insults and you will eventually look back and laugh at it all.
10. They love you
Last but not least. Your study abroad friends love you. So much. You know everything there is to know about this person and they know everything to know about you. The bond you create with these amazing individuals is irreplaceable and unforgettable. When this extraordinary experience comes to a bittersweet end, you realize that the past semester, or year, or summer, would not have been the same with the absence of one of your study abroad companions. You had a semester that was essentially not “real life,” but the friendships you made are built off of real love.