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Four Steps to Making Friends on Student Group Travel

It’s been an incredible first week of student group travel in Europe. Time after time, I’d get off our group travel tour bus to be greeted by the type of vistas you see only on postcards and in magazines. The beauty of central Europe is simply astounding. So far, we’ve visited France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, and Liechtenstein. Seeing so many cultures in such a short time has been presented lots of unique learning opportunities underlined by one central idea:

I don’t know how to do much of anything in a foreign country.

Shopping for basic toiletries in a Dutch strip mall was a half hour struggle, and finding a rain jacket proved to be impossible. The next day when I ordered at a German bierhaus, I pointed blindly at the foreign menu like it was a game of “pin the tail on the donkey.” At our hotel on the island of Lindau, I turned all the knobs but still couldn’t figure out how to use the bidet in our bathroom. And for a particularly chilly icing on the cake, I didn’t realize that Lake Geneva was full of fresh snow melt run-off from the towering Alps until I had already jumped in.

There’s really only one thing that I’ve excelled at over here on foreign soil, and that is making friends. Every place I go, I try to make up for my incompetence in every other area by befriending whomever I run into. Although it’s only been a week, I think I’ve picked up enough experience to make a quick four-step guide to making friends in foreign country.

1. Ask questions.

As we ambled down the Lake Geneva Promenade in Montreaux, a ritzy charter bus pulled up in front of our hotel. Twenty women, all at least six feet tall, filed out of the bus wearing matching sweat suits. I looked closer at their jackets. On the left pocket, CHINA was written in bold white font. The Chinese national volleyball team was staying at our hotel, and I really wanted to meet them.

Whenever I’m intimidated, whether by a strict professor in class or a pretty girl in a coffee shop, I make a point of asking questions. Questions are safe. Asking questions takes all the pressure off you and lets people do what they are best at—talk about themselves.

The next morning at breakfast, the team ate in their red jerseys. Palms sweating, I wobbled timidly up to a table of five of the players. Smiling to cover up my nerves, I spoke slow and pronounced every syllable.

“DO YOU PLAY VOLLEYBALL?” They nodded enthusiastically.

“DO YOU HAVE GAME TODAY?”

“No.” They giggled and muttered amongst themselves in Chinese. One player answered confidently on the group’s behalf. “We play game tomorrow tomorrow,”

“Uhh…WHAT IS TOMORROW TOMORROW?”

Five seconds of silence followed. The player motioned one of the coaches over for translation back-up. The coach clarified that their first game was “the day after tomorrow,” and the players and I laughed for a solid minute. We snapped a memorable photo and said our goodbyes. Sorry America, but I’m switching my allegiance for the volleyball portion of the 2016 Olympics. It all started with a question.

Questions make friends.

 

2. Smile.

One of our first nights in Maastricht, I ran into three University of Maastricht students on the river walk. Eager to figure out the city and make some friends here, I stammered out a few questions about Maastricht. Their English wasn’t great, and my Dutch was (and still is) nonexistent. The conversation easily could’ve gone downhill quickly, but mutual smiles and genuine laughter more than made up for anything that was lost in translation. Tinka, Fauve, and Janna (pronounced yawn-ah) grew up in Maastricht and taught me a ton about the city. We’re meeting up for coffee soon. Pardon my cliché, but the language of a smile is spoken everywhere.

3. Take selfies.

After our group of forty piled on the minibus headed up to Neuschwanstein Castle, the driver yelled that the bus was full. Unfortunately, the Taiwanese tour group directly behind us didn’t understand that statement. Their forty piled on top of our forty, the driver let out a string of German expletives, and we set out for the castle. Sensing the potential for a unique cultural experience, I whipped out my iPhone and made an announcement.

“Hello friends! I am going to take picture of us!” I spoke slowly and extended the phone out in front of me. “Look here and smile!” The many different pieces of our human jigsaw puzzle scrambled to get their faces in the frame, then I snapped one of my all-time favorite photos. When we got off the bus and walked up to the castle, you better believe I had forty new Taiwanese friends.

4. Remember why you’re there.

On a trip like this, it’s easy to get caught in tourist mode. Tourist mode happens when you’re so busy snapping panoramic pictures and planning the perfect itinerary that you don’t notice the one thing around you that really matters: the people.

I didn’t come to Europe this summer to check paragliding off my bucket list or get a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower. I came to cross paths with people from all over the world, from Luxembourg to Liechtenstein. I came to learn from these different people, to see how they view this world.

But most of all, I came to love people—to communicate that love through little things like smiles and questions and selfies. That’s why I’m here, and that’s what this summer is all about.

Student Group Travel to Switzerland

Lake Lucerne with my fellow Baylor student group travel classmates


 

This is post by Vince Greenwald, student group travel blogger for Millennium Tours. To follow along with Vince’s college group travel adventures, subscribe below.

What is your group travel goal? Whether it’s to check off a bucket list, learn something new, experience something out of your comfort zone, or “cross paths with people from all over the world,” Millennium Tours promises to craft a unique itinerary to meet your custom group travel needs.

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