I grabbed Jade’s arm and pointed down the hallway; a large, brunette woman had turned the corner, saw us, and begun stomping at high speed in our direction. Each pounding step seemed to get angrier and angrier. We frantically threw books in our bags and jumped out of our lounging positions on the floor, just in time to receive a face full of spit and rapid French that basically communicated: “You terrible children! Skipping class is highly against the rules, I should bring you down to the principal right now, you’ll be washing the floors tonight as punishment I can’t believe-”. It only took a second of Jade and I making flits of eye contact to agree on a plan, and we both burst out in terrified English mixed with fake broken French, “Oh my gosh! Bonjour, we are tres sorry, Madame, we are just les Americains! The exchange students! We do not know any rules, and we don’t parler francais! So sorry!” Our mock misunderstanding worked like a charm, winning us comforting words in broken English, apologizing profusely before sending us on our way. We flew away from our narrow escape, coasting down the stairs as I flashed Jade a grin that said, “So easy!” Laughter bubbled from the two fugitives, filling the building’s long, silent corridors.
I share this scene from our shared French Language and Culture Exchange from the summer after sophomore year not to encourage you to lie to your teachers or cause trouble on a school trip (my apologies Mrs. Biebel!), but to emphasize our favorite form of communication: a single look. Ever since Jade, a Chinese boarding student and I, an American day student, met in freshman year, we have been in lockstep. She offers a funny face in math or French class to make me giggle, and I always have a whine of something troubling me for her to wholeheartedly exclaim the same. We just fit.
When we went to France on this school exchange together, I was excited to travel with my friend, but also excited to make loads of French friends; our bonding should have been natural considering we were all Western, white, and Catholic. Unfortunately, this did not happen. I didn’t understand my classmates’ or family’s political opinions, and every move I made seemed to be a cultural faux pas. I stayed silent at dinner parties, as I could quickly translate their words but their intentions eluded me. My exchange mother was often irretrievably confused as I described my life at home - my mom does all the cooking while my dad works, I drive a car everywhere, and I eat out at restaurants twice a week. All these silly things that I didn’t think mattered, suddenly did.
For the French people that I met, the way you live is who you are, and there is (roughly) one ideal way to live. In contrast, while Jade loves STEM and I would throw all my science books out the window if I could, she has never claimed my passions were less important. I’m religious while she isn’t, but I’ve never pushed her to change her ideas. Above all, we don’t judge each other for the actions of our home countries- we proudly represent our own nation's colors (as little bit in jest) and mock all our own government and mistakes of its citizens.
Somehow we managed to unlock the key to a friendship that crosses cultural barriers: openness. Sometimes the best way to get through a door is to simply leave it ajar. I believe it was our common experiences at Baylor that brought us together. We live in the same context. The international aspect of Baylor takes tiny drops of culture (its students) and mixes them in one great bowl, requiring them to mix and find ways to fit together in this small space. I cannot blame the French, and of course with time we met a few who fit us just as well. All it takes is a willingness to learn. I will never make Jade love Hershey’s bars, but I will always steal some of her favorite Japanese chocolate and promptly revolt at how bitter it is just to make her laugh. At a school pocketed in the South and smack in the middle of the Bible belt, diverse friendships don’t really seem possible. I’m really grateful to Baylor for giving me the opportunity to have one. Imagine missing out on a best friend!