Back in middle school, I had a couple dozen pen pals all over the world. Several kept in touch over a few years, a few were just a half dozen letters exchanged back and forth. Before the days of the Internet in every home, it was a very cool way to learn about other cultures. Learning about different customs and cultures really fueled an unrequited desire to travel the world.
In fact, I've even said here that if I won the lottery, I'd become a permanent student, and take my breaks to travel. Now that I am approaching the midpoint of classroom studies for this doctoral program, I've even done some preliminary research into fellowship opportunities abroad. Considering the research studies I am citing in my proposal come from Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, it makes sense to try to get myself some time with those already exploring the topic, even if it isn't directly what I'm exploring.
Then a curious thing happened: through social media and a message board, I've become friends with about a dozen women who live in these regions. Similar to my crazy friends in the computer that met up at WDW recently, we congregate in one group and have gotten to know each other, and more importantly, laugh with each other. I will have IM chats off and on throughout the day with a lovely young lady from Sweden, then in the evening, another night owl and I will talk obscure music and the arts.
There's an interesting shift, though.
When most of the people you interact with are in your country, it's a safe bet that if you've chatted right before you've gone to bed at midnight, there isn't much activity in the place you tend to congregate online when you return to that site the next morning. Most of the participants are heading to bed within a couple of hours of you. Switch to a group that ranges from 14 hours down to five hours ahead, and someone is awake and yakking while you're sleeping. I can sometimes awake to find a dozen messages within the group tagged with my name, and I'm giggling first thing in the morning.
In addition to the humor, though, it's really interesting to get the adult perspective of living in other countries. Pen pals when you're a kid only have a kid's perspective on things-adults, well, we can talk about the way government is set up in the various countries, the food customs, what activities people tend to participate in. It's fascinating, like the pen pals of years ago, but much better.
Several in the group have met up, and eventually, I suspect that it'll be my turn to meet a few of these ladies in person. I keep telling them that if they want to visit Mickey Mouse, I'll be a willing tour guide. However, I suspect that when the time comes to be able to talk and laugh in person, it will involve a stamp on a passport.
And that's pretty darn awesome.