As I walked into my university’s International Affairs Department to meet my language exchange partners for the first time, I could feel my anxiety begin to spike.
In all actuality, I’m unsure whether I was feeling anxiety, or just exhaustion from all the walking and stair-climbing I had done prior to stepping foot in the building. Either way, I was feeling quite opposite of the calm and collected persona I was attempting to exude.
There were an array of questions floating through my mind.
How am I supposed to introduce myself? How do I carry on an intellectual conversation with an obvious language barrier? What do I do if I accidentally say something offensive to both of my partners’ cultures?
I soon forgot about all of my questions once I met Abdullah and Tracy. Tracy introduced herself first. She is very kind. She told me she is from China and is majoring in business. Next was Abdullah. He is just as friendly as Tracy. He is from Saudi Arabia and is majoring in physical therapy. We all exchanged phone numbers and then met with my classmate, Katlin, who is also partnered with Tracy and Abdullah.
We decided to go to Trowbridge’s, which is a locally enjoyed ice cream shop in downtown Florence that has been in operation since 1918. I thought it was a perfect place to encapsulate the essence of our small, southern town and expose Tracy and Abdullah to the hospitality of Florence locals.
There was a great distance from the International Office and my car, which we all would ride in to get to our destination, which left plenty of room for small talk as we walked.
I asked the two how they felt about the weather in Alabama, what the weather was like in their country during the summer, and (quite randomly) whether they believed in ghosts. Everything went smoothly, aside from the question about ghosts. There was a bit of confusion with both Tracy and Abdullah when I mentioned the topic, but Katlin and I were glad to help them with the term. I was tickled at their reactions to such a bizarre question, once they understood what I was asking.
After what seemed like an eternity, we made it to my car and drove to the ice cream shop. There we sat and conversed about various subjects. My favorite conversation was about our siblings. Katlin started the conversation, addressing that she has one sister and two brothers, which Tracy seemed very interested in. Tracy told us about the child restriction in China, leading to how she is an only child. Abdullah then surprised us all, but most certainly Tracy, by saying he has ten brothers and sisters. Believe me when I say, the shock on Tracy’s face was absolutely priceless!
It came time to drive back to UNA and part ways. We all piled back in the car and made it to my insanely distant parking place and then started for the International Office once more. On our way we talked about our hobbies and favorite movies. Katlin and Tracy quickly bonded over their love for the Marvel franchise film, Captain America, and Abdullah and I discussed his interest in Parkour.
We were ready to end our pleasantly exciting day, and then a horrible tragedy dawned on us all…
Abdullah, Tracy, and Katlin all left their backpacks in the trunk of my car, which meant we all had to endure another trip to my car in the hot, Alabama sun..
Next time I meet my new friends, I’m going to suggest something with a lot less walking, indoors with air conditioning, and God forbid they forget their backpacks!