Yesterday I discussed how lonely it can feel in life at times, even in the midst of many people. Today, let me describe the difference using an accelerated example: an international student.
You’re far away from home, foreign language and foreign culture. You’ve just realised us Irish aren’t as friendly as Lonely Planet and the travel guides make us out to be, especially when you’ve announced your intentions to stay here. And so you think about hanging out with other international students, because they’ll understand. “They’re people like me”.
You head down to the local Language Exchange night at a local pub. There’s a great buzz. You meet a few more internationals, socialise as much as you can in that environment with poor english and loud music, and call it a night when most people seem to be paying more attention to you as a female to flirt with, than as a human being. The morning after you’ve not many more genuine friendships, but you’ve had a whale of an evening that’s given you a relational high, enough to go back next time. And good news, next time you recognise a couple of people, though conversation seems harder with them now you know the basics – where do you go from here?
Alternatively you go to the far smaller, far quieter, weekly International Student Cafe in a rented hall nearby. You’re greeted by a mixture of local people (team members) of various ages, and other students from far more varied cultures than were in the pub (Muslims, mainly the difference). By uni standards it’s a tame night. But a fun activity/theme, took away the pressure just to make brilliant conversation and allowed personalities and diversities to shine through without too much stress. A chance to chill over tea, coffee and an international snack soon had us in stitches with our mis-communications to each other. This certainly was a socially less extroverted group, but nice none-the-less. Going home, it was nice to have had a different night but nothing incredible. Would I go back? Perhaps if there wasn’t a better, cooler option. Until…
Well, then I got a text the next day asking me whether I’d go for a run and a coffee at the weekend. I hadn’t realised the guy at the cafe did running like me. Actually, I hadn’t realised much about him as he’d always been asking me good questions about what I liked, come to think of it. And so we did. And I came back the next week to cafe as a result, though I stayed a bit longer to help clear up afterwards. After all, they seemed a very nice bunch, random as they were.
And then the next week I went on a trip with them to some stunning coastline (they don’t make profit, interestingly) nearby. And before I knew it I was organising one of the week’s themes in my own culture.
What seemed like quite an ordinary cafe started to grip me. This wasn’t just one person who was like me, who took interest in me. This was everyone there. And I could see it was starting to change me and the others there for the better. I was thinking mid-week about how I could show interest in their lives too. I mean, was this friendship? But it was so random, so….different!
So what makes this difference? This very real community?
Well, I’ll save my thoughts for next time and in the mean time, thoughts on the back of a postcard to me please!
PS: I hope I haven’t been too harsh in characterising other language exchanges and international groups in this city. Some of what they do is fantastic and will have helped develop leadership/entrepreneurial flair in those leading, helped other make friends, find love and much more. And most of what we do relies on them to take away most people from us (it wouldn’t work with more students currently). So thank you! I’ve always pointed people towards you and what you do and spoken highly of you, and still will. And find any of us on an off-night and we’ll be just as self-centred as anyone!