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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Essay: How befriending an international student shaped my perspective on friendship

As a freshman at GW, one of my closest friends at school is a 22-year-old junior from Mexico City who speaks a different first language than I do. Her name is Arantxa Gomez – she is a spring-semester exchange student from El Colegio de México and one of the best parts of my first year of college.

But she’s leaving D.C. at the end of the summer, and it might be months or even years before I see her in person again. All college friendships, particularly transnational ones, are on a ticking timer – separation is ever-looming. But reflecting back on this semester together, I would rather know Ara for five months and endure the painful goodbye than have never known her at all.

Fate has a funny way of forging friendships. Ara and I first met each other the first week back from winter break when I needed sincere friendships at GW in the same way that I need oxygen – to survive. She, a nervous exchange student, and I, an apprehensive freshman, found ourselves surrounded by too many people who didn’t truly know us and didn’t care to find out. I tearfully called my mom earlier that week, terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find where I belonged at GW and that it was already too late for me to start over again. Then I met Ara.

She approached me as I was sitting alone at the general body meeting for an on-campus acting club, the 14th Grade Players. She told me earlier this week I looked like I wouldn’t judge her, so at the end of the meeting, she unassumingly walked up to me, introduced herself as Ara – she didn’t think many native English speakers could pronounce “Arantxa” – and smiled. I hadn’t done a lot of smiling myself that week, but her genuine demeanor and compassionate expression broke through my defense shield. I liked her right away.

Ironically, neither of us had any interest in acting. Ara’s roommate had brought her along as a way to introduce her to more GW students while I was there because I forced myself to try one new thing a week that scared me to prove my internal strength to myself.

It turned out Ara and I were both political science students enrolled in the same Violence in Latin America lecture. She told me she was from Mexico and I lit up – I was a Spanish minor who spoke the language like a “gringa” eager to practice conversing in an organic way. She hadn’t met any other Spanish speakers at the time, so just the comfort of being able to express herself to someone who could understand her was an exciting prospect. We exchanged phone numbers, sat next to each other the next day in class and grabbed a coffee at For Five afterward.

Now, five months later, we talk every day. I am forever in awe of the power of “hello” and the potential that exists in every introduction. The resonance of friendship can be heard around the world.

Arantxa is a sunflower. She’s a Taylor Swift song on repeat. She’s my friend, and I have to watch her move 2,336 miles away from me in a few short months. I wish I could hide her in my closet or that I was small enough to fit in her carry-on luggage.

Through Arantxa, I’ve met other incredible international students, and now my days are spent speaking in a hodgepodge of English and Spanish with the occasional French quip. With every conversation I have with her, I feel myself becoming more and more confident in my bilingualism. Ara never mocks my lack of Spanish fluency – she uplifts my skills and even pretends to be impressed by my lackluster conversation abilities.

But both of us are gaining international experiences. I introduce her to my favorite coffee shops and restaurants in the District. She teaches me Mexican slang, and I help her perfect her California valley girl accent for those emergencies when she needs it. We swap stories, songs and worries that we’re afraid to even admit to ourselves.

In these pure, fleeting moments, there’s no room for formalities, small talk or embarrassment – that’s the greatest lesson these compressed college friendships have taught me. We have a mutual agreement to be the rawest versions of ourselves – we won’t remember our conversations about the weather, but we will remember walking home in a rainstorm after indulging in tacos, confessing our secrets to each other into the night. This is how I cope with the leaving – she may no longer be with me physically, but our mental scrapbook of memories will always be there.

Arantxa has taught me more than just Spanish – she’s taught me the universal language of friendship. I’ve learned the importance of words, the vulnerability of a hug, the light of a laugh and the joy of a smile. She is one of the smartest, kindest individuals I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. It’s surreal to me that by August, we won’t be living blocks away from each other. But distance will always surrender to the strongest friendships.

Ara and I are made to last, no matter what country we find ourselves in. Some might call it naivete, but I call it betting on the right people. Goodbye is just a placeholder until the next hello.

Paige Baratta, a freshman majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.

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