During summer 2016, I had the opportunity to spend 2 weeks with 49 other 16-17 year olds from around the world, as shown in the cover photo.
We spent the entire time touring Los Angeles (even though I only live an hour away) and going to several amusement parks, museums, and beaches in the area. This program, called International Youth Gathering (IYG), was held through the International Police Association (IPA). IYG was life-changing for me.
If you were friends with me during or after IYG, there's a good chance you heard me babble on and on about it and with good reason, too. I had never experienced anything like IYG before and the bonds I formed with the people in it were incredible. I never, ever expected to become so close to so many people, let alone in such a short time.
The goodbyes, needless to say, were heartbreaking. I'm not being dramatic about it -- I felt empty. But I wouldn't take back IYG for anything.
The IYG family is spread across 27 different countries and the closest (non-chaperone) people to me are in New York and New Jersey. I'm very blessed to have friends in so many places around the world. The best part is that IYG doesn't even include my family in Holland, Belgium, and Indonesia or all the wonderful international students I attend university with.
I love that almost anywhere I decide to travel in the future, I will be able to reunite with someone who means a lot to me. And, of course, I'll be more likely to have a place to stay (and you all are welcome to stay with me when you visit L.A. again). I love making connections with people and if our friendships can stand the test of distance, then we can get through anything.
Unfortunately, maintaining friendships with people far away can be very taxing. Communication is difficult because of the time difference. Trying to FaceTime someone when it's 2 am where you live and 10 am where they live requires scheduling an appointment in advance.
Keeping in touch is also challenging because people have their own lives and their own things to do every day. It's certainly not that we don't want to talk to each other all the time; there's just so many things on everyone's plates (but yes, I agree, it is about prioritizing -- to an extent).
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and boy, oh boy, is distance a pain in the ass. I miss everyone from IYG like crazy and I miss everyone else that I live far from, and I miss my college friends when they go home for the summer. But the reunions are worth it, trust me.
Having international friends also affects you in that, in the back of your mind, you can be assured that there are always other people who miss you and care for you. We are all busy people with minimal time to spare, and we may talk to each other very sparsely, but we know that we will always care about one another.
As a result of IYG and of my many interactions with other international folks, I now know not to take goodbyes for granted; always say goodbye like you mean it. I also more fully appreciate the time I have with other people. I know that everything is temporary, so I try (but am still learning how) to make the most of each experience I have and I treat my friendships as if I value each of them because I do.
Just because my international friends and family and I don't see each other very often doesn't mean that we don't love each other. I am grateful for everyone I know that lives scattered across the globe, and I am so glad that I was able to become friends with you. See you soon, friends. :)