We’re all in this together: Friendship is a renewable resource


A change of surroundings is a wonderful thing.

Earlier this month my husband and I were lucky enough to travel for 10 days to Salzburg, Austria. This city is almost a second home to us; we lived there for four non-consecutive years between 1989 and 2003 while he directed BGSU’s Academic Year Abroad program in German. Our son spent significant years of his childhood in Salzburg, made his first best friend with a neighbor boy, Viktor, and learned German.

I learned German, too—though I didn’t master the local dialect and curse words as well as he did!—and sang in the cathedral choir. We made friends with the Slovak doctors who lived below us (Viktor’s parents) and Geoff helped his students explore the culture and language, while cementing his contact with colleagues and local writers.

So going back to Salzburg induces a shower of memories. It also renews friendships and reawakens the sights and sounds that were once new. We saw friends, celebrated a colleague’s retirement, and enjoyed the city all over again. Climbing the city’s wooded hills, walking its winding streets and Italianate squares, and strolling along the Salzach river—once daily events—were more special because they are now rare pleasures.

Living abroad isn’t always easy. When you’ve moved to a new place for a year you must not only learn the language but navigate habits and customs that are different. You need to find friends, activities—and help your family find them as well. The challenges change as your child gets older. On our fourth stay there our son missed his friends so sorely that he and I returned to the U.S. after just one semester.

Going away for a year every three or four years created challenges in my work life as well. (Do you tell a prospective employer that you’ll be taking off in a few years? Do you set long-term career goals for yourself in this situation?) Be all this as it may, though, I can’t picture our life without our time in Salzburg. Was it always easy? No. Was it worth it? Yes.

Taking a vacation where you once lived underlines how special living in that environment was. It’s easy to take beautiful surroundings for granted when you plod through them every day on your way to the market. (I also take my hometown surroundings for granted sometimes, I must admit.) But the mountain views on a clear day are spectacular once again after life in our flat Northwest Ohio. (I have to point out, though, that visiting writers from Austria enjoy the former Black Swamp because of its wide open spaces and broad views of the sunset. Who knew Austrians could feel hemmed in by the mountains? I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.)

Spending 10 days where you once lived a year at a time forces you to appreciate each moment. Every invitation to a café, every dinner out, every walk through the woods takes on a poignance because you know your time is limited. Living in the present is a constant challenge for me, but when the end of a brief visit looms you know you must make the most of every moment. You can’t sweat the details: the rain will go away tomorrow; you can handle a little jet lag. Just keep moving because that flight home is only days away!

What was most inspiring about this trip, however, was an important realization: friendship is an infinitely renewable resource. Reuniting with our former neighbors reminded me of just how crucial that relationship was our second year with the program. The Bauers had moved only two years before to Salzburg from Slovakia. Both our sons needed a friend and so did his mother and I. The boys played together almost every day, while Monika and I chatted, neither in our native language. We talked about everything as we each learned German, though. The urge to connect was far more important than insecurities about grammar or adjective endings. Though Monika doesn’t believe it, I learned a great deal from her. We found a way to communicate, thereby forging an unbreakable bond.

The human heart yearns for these bonds—to places, and more importantly, to people. We can form them while we travel, or while we stay at home. The important thing is to connect, and to cherish what we have at hand. Because as the saying has it: no matter where you go, there you are.

No posts to display