When you move to a new city that’s five thousand miles away from everything you have ever known, you are faced with several different challenges. These can vary from language to food, transportation to lifestyle and everything in between. All of the difficulties provide a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and experience the world, but it can be extremely hard and even more lonely.
Loneliness was a big part of my first few days in Switzerland. Even still, two months later, I am overcome with occasional lonesome feelings and negative thoughts of not belonging in this city. I think about how I miss friends and family back home, I have a ‘woe-is-me’ attitude and I feel sorry for myself while I gorge on expensive Swiss chocolate. It only lasts about five seconds before I realize that I am living my dream: I am surrounded by an endless supply of adventure and happiness. I quickly leave my pity party and get over it.
It was a Tuesday when I first walked in to the international office to meet the coordinator I had received emails from. While I waited for my meeting, I chatted with an American guy from Colorado talking about the places we’ve been and the places we hope to see, when a girl came out of her own meeting. The three of us struck up a conversation, glad to know we weren’t all new to this place. We talked about the usual: where we are from, what we are studying, why we came to Switzerland and more. What started as a simple conversation on a sunny afternoon quickly turned in to a traditional Swiss lunch, exploring Bern, climbing lots of stairs, and running from the rain with my new best friend and the guy from Colorado.
I was lucky enough to meet some amazing friends that day, including the girl who I learned was named Alex. Alex became my closest and dearest friend here in Switzerland. She is down for both deep and goofy conversations, our selfie game is on point and she is always up to join me on adventures.
Our meeting was just the first of many adventures. We have ventured to surrounding towns — we randomly got on a train to Italy to eat pizza, visited casinos and bars, went to the top of Mount Pilatus, got caught in one too many rain showers, experienced some snowy days and hopped on a plane to Romania just for the heck of it. These adventures — whether it was for a few hours, the day or a whole weekend — have been some of the best moments of my life. The people we adventure with are always changing, but I am so thankful to have had such an amazing girl by my side for each of them.
Alex and I have experienced an immense amount of joy and laughter together. We have shared our stories, hopes and dreams, and have experienced life abroad side by side. We have met wonderful hotel hosts and had great conversations with fellow travelers. We have enjoyed the views, tried absinthe and basked in the sun. It hasn’t all been easy, though. We have faced language barriers, ruined plans, a difficult run in with a taxi driver, have walked in many circles and the weather is hardly ever on our side. Where there is one of us, you will probably find the other.
I get a lot of questions about American culture and language. Being from the South brings about even more questions followed by jokes or comments. Politics are part of every conversation and people always want to know my views and opinions on the presidency. There is nothing wrong with questions — they help you learn things and allow you to grow. I ask them constantly and I never hesitate to answer honestly.
Some of the hardest, weirdest, most uncomfortable questions I get are about my friendship with Alex. It boggles people from every country and every background.
'How can a girl from the U.S. and a girl from Mexico be friends?’ 'What about the wall that is being built?’ 'Alex might never be able to see Tennessee, you know that, right?’ 'Does President Trump know you two are friends?’ 'Will he let you back in the States, Jennings?’ 'At least she’s not Muslim, is she?’ 'Do you really have that much in common to be such good friends?’
Three words: people are people. It’s really quite simple — she is my friend. We connect in ways I have never connected with another person. We have a friendship built on trust and acceptance — it is unbreakable. It doesn’t matter that our skin is different colors or that our native language isn’t the same. Who cares about the wall or Trump? I’m in Switzerland, she’s in Switzerland, Trump is not. So what if she reads the Qur’an? What about who I worship? If she can’t come to Tennessee, I’ll just go to Mexico. If I can’t go to Mexico, we will meet in Europe or Asia or Australia. None of those petty things matter. They are all surface level and life is so much more than that. Friendship is so much more than that.
As I write this for the world to see, I am joyful. I think about all of my past adventures with Alex and the many more to come, and I remember the conversations I have had with people about our friendship. We continue to be the girls with the bond other international students are fascinated by. Nothing anyone says or thinks will change our friendship. We are living proof borders don’t stop friendships. We are an example for people around the world who need a friend — backgrounds, politics and religion don’t need to matter. The two of us have an opportunity to break the mold and defy the stereotypes of relationships between Mexico and the Unites States. Will it be easy? No. Will we make a difference? At the least, two people will feel a difference. The fascination will continue to be there. The questions and jokes aren’t going anywhere — but Alex and I are unstoppable.
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