This past weekend, one of my hometown friends came to London. Friends since the first grade, she is one of those friends who you could go months without talking to only to meet up and pick up right where you left things. Hours passed as we walked along the River Thames, laughing and catching up, taking in the sights and talking about all the things that happened in high school that we happily had forgotten about. Talking with her took me back to my hometown and reminded me of what it was like to be anywhere but London. Talking to my friend took me from the banks of the Thames to the north shore of Long Island — summer breezes, strong accents, good bagels and all. It made me miss my friends and family.
It can be so easy to get wrapped up in everything that’s surrounding immediately around us. What’s harder is being sure to keep communication open with those that aren’t physically near us. One of the challenges I’ve faced being abroad is how to keep an open line of communication between myself and my friends back home. Although it isn’t as hard as the plight of the American expatriates in post-war Europe with their habit of ruining relationships and lack of computers, the challenge still remains. Could I still be an important part of their lives from hundreds of miles away?
It makes me wonder how much relationships are built on physical presence. Sometimes it seems there are only so many times you can say “I miss you,” only so many “can’t wait to be home” text messages sent. Traveling and being apart from each other is not a new concept, as we are reminded by thoughts of long-distance relationships. But no matter how many times we are away from people we care about, it doesn’t seem to get easier. Summer break is an indicator of this. The weekend prior, two of my aunts and one of my uncles came to visit. Seeing family was a surreal experience for me because I had gotten used to seeing them at select holidays and birthday celebrations. Seeing them had reminded me of what it was like being home in New York and celebrating together. I was able to catch up and find out what had been going on in their lives and talk about things that don’t always fit within the body of an email. It also reminded me that London was a temporary destination and the number of mornings spent waking up in South Kensington was dwindling fast, no matter how much I’d try to fight it.
I believe when it comes down to it, we must be conscious of where we are and make an active decision that we are still going to be a part of the lives of people who are important to us. With my best friends from home, we’ve had years of practice now not going to schools in the same state. When my best friend studied abroad in Italy, we would FaceTime and text every day just to stay in each other’s lives. The relationship would continue because the effort was there.
Abroad aside, our collegiate lives are always in transition. One year, month or week from now, we may not be where we were previously. The challenge in that lies within attempting to keep friendships that were formed on presence. I miss the late night talks with my roommates, passing people I know on the street or casually running into someone I hadn’t seen in weeks. Not being around on campus means I forfeit these mundanities of life. This doesn’t mean that I have to be absent for the rest of it. It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but that doesn’t mean that it gets harder. Thanks to the wonderful invention of iMessage and FaceTime, my friends are never too far away. Tie it all together with my penchant to text one of my exes when I get either lonely or bored, and presence doesn’t always depend on being physically present. The thing to remember is that no matter how much we fight it, everything is temporary — even being away from friends and family. Until then, we have Snapchat, iMessage, Facebook Messenger and memes to hold us over.