I never had a pen-pal or became a letter writing friend and I never even knew an exchange student or combed the Internet for one. My contact with someone from another country came through one of our daughters.
Julie enjoyed foreign study during college in the early 1970s. After a semester spent studying German in Salzburg, she continued on for a year at Hamburg University in Germany. Along the way, she solidified friendships in both cities.
Although we wanted to visit her there, my husband and I weren't able to because we had started—of all things—a local newspaper in our very own basement. Our hours were consumed with darkroom work and various "beats". As a result, we never met any of our daughter's European friends.
It wasn't until after her passing that I had this opportunity.
Making New Friends
A woman she had worked with in Hamburg wrote to us about how much she had enjoyed Julie's friendship and how sorry she was that she wouldn't be seeing her again. Karla stressed that she and her husband, Manfred, would like to meet me. Perhaps I could come to Hamburg and visit them.
I also received a letter from a Danish woman, Margaret, living in Copenhagen. She and her husband had met Julie in Germany, while she was working at an inn near Lake Constance before starting her studies at Salzburg.
I began to think, more and more, about how nice it would be to meet these lovely women.
Later, my circumstances changed so that I could consider traveling overseas. At last, I would meet our daughter's friends.
Keeping Up With the Old
I took my first solo trip to Hamburg and Copenhagen in 1985.
In Hamburg I first united with the German couple. Next, I met Melanie, a woman who had opened her home to our daughter after Julie babysat for her two young daughters. Melanie's girls- now grown women-even had children of their own!
In Copenhagen I met another friend of Julie's, and her sons and their families. One of her sons, Ole, had corresponded with our daughter during a foreign literature exchange project at college. She had told us all about Ole. It was such a joy to get acquainted with him-and with his wife and two beautiful teenage daughters.
I've become good friends with Karla and Margaret and their extended families, and have visited their homes and traveled with them in their countries many times since. They are truly my cherished travel companions. We continue to correspond and look forward to future visits. I'd love to have them visit me in the United States too.
The Silver and Gold
More recently, overseas friendships have come my way through my grandchildren, who have studied and traveled throughout Europe thus forging their own lifelong connections.
Getting to know these bright young people, not only when I visit them abroad, but when they come here to see me, is so wonderful. Intergenerational friendships are an extraordinary treat!
Perhaps we can all serve as friendship ambassadors in these countries, to help people there get acquainted with ordinary Americans, to counter impressions they may get in the media.
Now is the time to consider actually meeting some of your European letter-writing or foreign exchange friends in person and in their own countries. And ask your grandchildren, heck, any of your relatives!, to share some of their overseas friendships with you.