The Benefits of Overseas Friendship: Chat for Cultural Benefit, Language Exchange and World Education
Overseas friendships help bring together people from different cultures and backgrounds, creating new mixtures of ideas and new educational opportunities
A scholarly approach to the benefits of overseas friendships and online interactions all over the world
How many friends do you have? Of all of those people that you talk to on a daily basis, interact with on social media, or bounce ideas off of, how many are from another country? If the answer is few or none, you may be missing out on one of the greatest parts of having the internet.
International friendship can be extremely rewarding, educational, and can broaden a person's view beyond the culture and ideas that stem from his or her immediate environment. For me, the habit of making international friends started by accident when I met someone from South America in a chat room. We became fast friends, and have been talking since 2003. In that time, we've kept in contact through e-mail, instant messenger, voice chats and telephone conversations. We have both grown from high school students to adults, with the morphing concerns of education, family and career. While I have turned into a full-time at-home freelancer, he has gone on to an advanced degree and entered into a demanding job.
Inspired by what is shaping up to be a lifelong friendship, I've sought out more friends online through a variety of outlets. Sometimes I'm specifically looking to learn a language, and other times I just want another perspective on the world. Early in my life, learning a language meant buying books, taking classes, and maybe even finding a native speaker if you're lucky. Today, you just have to get the word out to people who speak the language you want to learn, and it's an added bonus if they want to learn your language. The benefits of international friendship don't stop with just language learning, though -- they're a prime example of the positive aspects of globalization.
So I was born to be just another closed-minded backwater hillbilly...
So what have these friendships done for me aside from helping me learn new languages? First, a little background. I come from a very small town in Wyoming. I have never lived anywhere other than Wyoming, and have not been able to travel to other parts of the world. All I know firsthand is the culture and way of life in a Christian-dominant rural agricultural community. It's about as "white-washed" as it's possible to get with an over 98% Caucasian population. That's a pretty darn narrow worldview, as I doubt anyone will argue.
...with one difference.
I love to learn new things. I'm fascinated by history, and like to know the factors that made the world what it is today. All language and culture is dynamic, constantly changing and always just a little bit different for each individual. With a persistent thirst for learning, I can't quite get enough of the opportunities for interaction available on the internet.
People asked, "Why not just read a book, or the news?"
Yes, it's possible to get some information about different regions, political structures and current events from books and media outlets. That is, if you don't mind it being outdated, or filtered through the lens of what's acceptable in the mainstream, or happens to be the message that the governments want to send to the general population. These outlets have no individuality, and no personal opinion.
I want to see things from a big-picture view, or a "round" view, as I like to think about it. Any object or event can be regarded an infinite number of ways, it just depends on who is looking. Obviously, it's completely impossible to get a round view of something if it's just a book or re-spun news story. Making friends directly also lets you see views from all walks of life, not just the stuffy professor writing a book or the harried middle-class journalist who has to appease an editor.
I got online, and found all the people who aren't available in day-to-day life
Through the people I have met online, I have learned about the culture and way of life in all these different countries. They often make me think in ways in which I'm not accustomed, and always leave me wanting to learn more about where they live. More often, they ask or answer questions I never would have thought about while reading. Every time someone from India asks me why we wear white at weddings, or someone asks why English speakers have 50 different ways to say the same thing, I have the opportunity to look at my own world and examine details that I've always taken for granted. In turn, I can ask bizarre questions that no one would ever write into a book or news story, but that my friends are happy to answer or to mull over with me.
How do you find international strangers without being annoying or creepy?
Because of the vast resources available on the internet, it's exceedingly easy to find people to talk to in other countries and forge lasting friendships. Granted, just jumping into your favorite social networking site and talking to anyone and everyone may not be the most efficient or reliable way to find international friends. It can work -- I have found a few friends with this method myself -- but it might also scare some people. What other options are out there?
Pick something about the people you want to meet. Maybe it's something you want to learn, or a specific country or region you want to learn about. Maybe you want to learn a second language, or improve your speaking skills in a non-native language. Perhaps you plan to travel somewhere and want an "insider view" of what to expect.Get a clear idea in your mind, then hit the search engines and online gathering places.
Get out and look! Nearly every kind of service available for meeting people within your country is also available specifically for international friendships and relationships. Chat rooms, message boards, networking sites, language exchange, online tutoring -- these are just a few possibilities for finding international friendship. Through these routes, you can find people who are also specifically seeking international friendships.
In summary, why go to all this trouble for international relationships?
I believe that learning about other places is very important to understanding how the world works. We can see how our own country fits into the grand global scheme, and how what others know of us varies from what we are taught about ourselves. On the same token, we can compare notes on what we're taught about other countries and see how it compares to the day-to-day realities of being a citizen. Whatever the case, it increases our understanding of fellow world citizens, and expands the framework of our worldview. The ground is most fertile for innovation and creativity where ideas combine.
An example of the power of digital-age connection
The biggest benefit from my overseas friendships? I get to learn and practice Spanish. Read about my journey here.
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