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My first not-quite-fling abroad by Rosel of What Are Years?

Hello Oranges and Apples readers! I’m Rosel and I write over at What Are Years? about gender, race and pop culture. I’m so glad to be guest posting on Franca’s blog while she’s enjoying her honeymoon; going with the travel theme, I thought I’d recount one of the first trips I’d taken without my parents when I was a teenager, and a surprise friendship that grew out of it.

When I was in grade 10, I had a chance to go on a 10-day Europe trip for Spring Break. An English teacher in my school organized the trip every couple of years, and you “applied” (i.e. put your name down on a list) and she picked 10-15 names at random. On the itinerary: Greece and Italy. As someone who had never been to Europe (and someone who had seen much Europe-fawning thanks to North American pop culture) I was pretty excited for food and history. Little did I know that what would leave the biggest impression would be from America, not Europe.

Our high school group joined another high school touring group from Florida. To be honest, I didn’t really socialize with them that much – because I was mostly focused on taking as many pictures as possible of old buildings and eating gelato. Then one night in southern Italy, I started talking to this one guy at a tacky souvenir shop. I remember he said “y’all” a bunch of times, wore a beret, and had greenish eyes.

Soon we got on a dirty ferry to go across the ocean to Greece, and the American stranger and I shared some intense conversations that only teenagers abroad for the first time can. He was reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower and suggested I read it too. We had a comically earnest conversation about “fate” and how our meeting must be somewhat fateful because we didn’t meet until the last leg of the trip. I feel almost embarrassed telling you all this, but I will own my 16-year-old earnestness.

Anyway, so our sweet and short acquaintance was cut short when we left for the airport and our
respective homes. He gave me a note at the airport by pretending to give me his garbage (so romantic! And I almost threw it away because I thought it was, well, garbage). Little did I know it would be a start of a great pen friendship and a lot of romantic imagination on my part. The stranger and I exchanged letters, emails and occasional phone calls for the next 2 years. I remember one time he sent me a translucent plastic sheet and told me to look at the world through it. The summer after first year, we met up in Montreal – were this a movie, maybe something big would’ve happened and one of us would’ve moved to another city, or something.

But real life gave me the surprise ending of finding out he had a girlfriend back home, a fact disclosed by not him, but his friends. It did put a damper on my romantic aspirations, but we parted amicably. Over time, our letter-writing enthusiasm has certainly died down, but the Stranger continues to surprise me with correspondences here and there, including a postcard from Antarctica, and more recently, an out-of-the-blue Skype call at 11pm from North Dakota. Even though our penpal-ship never turned into a whirlwind romance my teenage self had hoped, I cherish the peripheral presence of the Stranger in my life.

So next time you encounter strangers in your travels, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. You might even get some postcards and subsequent trips out of it later on.

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