Seven Tips To International Friendship by Jeremi Snook Dec.2019
The Christmas Truce in World War I is one of the most remarkable stories in our world’s history. French, Scottish and German soldiers on both sides spontaneously climbed out of the trenches on the Western Front on Christmas Eve and began sharing cigarettes, champagne, and family photos with one another. This moment in time is a shining example of how simply friendship is forged and how peace, an unintentional consequence of friendship, can profoundly affect the world around us.
In the early 1900’s, few people had the resources to participate in the long, arduous, expensive process associated with international travel. Today, however, each one of us has an incredible opportunity to build meaningful connections with others around the world, whether we are hosting international visitors in our city or traveling abroad. For over 40 years, members of Friendship Force International, a nonprofit dedicated to intentionally bringing people of different cultures together, have been doing just that. We’ve taken some of the best advice from their experiences to put together seven tips to help you build international friendship:
- Google it. What major holidays do they celebrate? What are the latest headlines? What are their customs and history? Today, over half the world is online, and most of us carry the internet in our pockets. Taking even a few minutes to do some research about the country in which your new friends live can make a world of difference in your first conversations.
- Learn a few phrases in their native language. Whether you dust off that old Spanish book from high school, jump online and search for a few translations, or go on YouTube to learn how to pronounce the words correctly, taking a few minutes to learn basic greetings will help you feel more connected and while seriously impressing your new friends. Hello, good-bye, thank you, how are you, do you speak English (or other language you know), and cheers are a great start. Write the phrase phonetically on a small piece of paper and carry it with you for quick reference…and don’t worry if it’s not perfect, because to your new friends, it’s the thought that counts!
- Learn their customary greetings. This is especially important when you are a visitor in a new country. Do they bow? Do they shake hands? Do they kiss each other on the cheek? Do they kiss on both cheeks? Are the greetings the same for women as it is for men? What do you say when you first greet someone? It is easy to overlook local customs and just extend a hearty handshake, which in most cases is fine, but taking the time to learn local customary greetings shows your willingness to learn and adapt. It also goes a long way in demonstrating respect and appreciation for what makes you different from one another. And like trying to speak a language for the first time, it is okay if it’s not perfect, because your new friends will be endeared by your willingness to try.
- Be prepared to share family photos. For most of us, long gone are the days of the accordion of wallet size photos we used to carry around. Today, we are fortunate to carry thousands (and for some, tens-of-thousands) of photos wherever we go on our smartphones and tablets. This is great until you realize that the family photo you want to share is buried somewhere behind hundreds of photos of your dog or the things you just listed on eBay. Take time to assemble a special folder on your smart device with only a handful of carefully selected photos that are ready to share with your new friends. Being able to virtually meet your family and friends is a great way to immediately build a lasting bond.
- Gifts are great. There are many ways to express gratitude and thanks. Often the easiest and most memorable for your new friends is to give a memento of something relevant to your hometown or culture. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and should be light and small enough to pack. And if traveling by air, think twice about liquids or perishables. If someone is visiting you, it is a nice greeting to have a gift for them upon arrival. And if you are traveling, you never know when that special moment will arise, or who else you might meet along the way, so bring a few things with you to give.
- Stay curious. Most people are eager to share about themselves and their culture. When meeting someone for the first time, never shy away from questions to better understand your new friends and how they live. Do they have a shrine in their home or a temple in their yard? Do they dress in a way different from yourself? Did you witness a ceremony or ritual that you had never seen before? Whatever it is, developing a broader understanding of the world requires that we stay curious, ask questions and listen with understanding.
- Prepare your mind and open your heart. There is a poster that exists in almost every school library in the US that says, “Your mind is like a parachute – it only functions when open.” In order for your assumptions about other people to be challenged and your views about the world to be changed, you must give yourself permission to fully appreciate the experience. So often, our own prejudices, biases, and opinions prevent us from seeing the world from another person’s perspective. As a result, we may miss out on an ideal opportunity to expand our understanding of the world around us and connect with people different from ourselves in a meaningful and lasting way. In other words, approach meeting people from a country and a culture different from your own with an open mind and an open heart. Before you know it, you will find yourself surrounded by new friends!
What tips do you have from your travels?
MAKE FRIENDS ACROSS THE WORLD
Friendship Force International provides opportunities to explore new countries and cultures from the inside by bringing people together at the personal level. Through the signature program of home hospitality, local hosts welcome international visitors into their culture, sharing with them meals, conversation, and the best sights and experiences of their region.