One of the best thing you can do for yourself is to be friends with people who have vastly different stories than you. It makes your conversations more interesting, your connection more real, and opens your mind to worlds of possibilities that you have no means of reaching on your own.
This realization came to me in the form of my job at my university’s English Language Institute. I started teaching an informal english there 4 semesters ago and it wasn’t long before I stopped calling many of them my students and started just calling them my friends. The relationships that I have formed with people from all over the world have deeply impacted me and will continue influence my worldview for the rest of my life.
So, here are just a few reasons why it is important to have friends that are very different from you…
- There is a Japanese author who I absolutely love called Haruki Murakami. In one of his novels a character says, “If you only the read the books that everyone else is reading you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” That’s how I feel about people as well. If you only know people who are similar you will only be able to think the same things that all those people are thinking. Not only is that boring, I find it scary as well. My life’s goal is to be constantly expanding my mind in new directions and that will never happen if I confine myself to other white english speaking americans.
- If you have never had the absolute privilege of trying to explain to someone why americans are so obsessed with their dogs or came to a startling realization like the fact that almost no one in Korea or Japan has an oven in their kitchen, then you’re missing out on some of the most fun and interesting conversations you can have. If you don’t have any friends who are non-native english speakers, then get some. Being friends with people who have different first languages helps you to be more aware of your own language and your own culture. It lets you gain a deep understanding of yourself while at the same time teaching you so much about the other cultures that we aren’t often exposed to.
- I lack better words in which to say this but, I believe that it actually makes you smarter. I can not even begin to tell you all the things that I have learned from my international friends. Not only the cute cultural stuff but legitimate information that has been added to my knowledge base. There was a time when I probably couldn’t have told you where Kuwait was on a map but now I can tell you differences between the Kuwaiti and Saudi government structure, I know the name of the King of Saudi Arabia, I can recognize the differences in almost all written asian languages, I know the pillars of Islam, I can say hello in more languages than I used to know existed, and I now have that “cultural competency” that employers are always talking about.
I am so eternally thankful for the friendships I have from around the world and the ones that I have always had here. So if you can, go out and meet some people who are different than you! I promise you won’t regret it 🙂