I stepped off the plane into Leipzig Halle Airport, on my way to see a face I had only ever known from pictures and occasional videos. Adrenaline had a jolly old party in my veins, inviting a million questions as I scanned the crowd for someone I’d recognize.
Mama told me never to talk to strangers; it was one of those pieces of motherly wisdom that I blatantly ignored. I spent most of my high school career meeting said strangers in those internet chatrooms that pre-dated even Myspace. “LOL,” “OMG,” and “ASL” originated there, as did a number of friendships, up to 17 at a time, from such exotic locations as Australia, Ireland, and Nepal. They weren’t usually profound conversations, but they did teach me that kids around the world are united in so many of the same issues and ambitions.
I didn’t have any specific designs to meet these digital friends, though I did concoct two crazy plans before college, which, fortunately, fell through. It takes maturity and confidence to meet someone from the internet, and at the time, I lacked both. And Skype.
When I met Eric, we’d been corresponding for five years, the idea being to swap language lessons. To this day, his English remains spectacular and my German terrible, largely because we’d spent so much time discussing movies and youth’s many dramas. We hadn’t extensively planned this meeting; I was about to finish a trek across Spain and had some extra time and money. So, I emailed Eric and asked if he wanted to hang out the next weekend. For real.
It’s peculiar enough to wonder whether the face you’re about to see will match the face you expect. It’s quite another when the face matches, when the expected awkwardness never happens, and when the semi-impromptu weekend becomes a wondrous tour of a new, old city, a spectacular national park, and the lovely weekend ritual of afternoon tea with neighbors, not to mention German chocolate so good it can’t be exported to the US.
Maybe I missed out on a lot of normal things by making pen pals rather than cliques. I lacked the popularity to be prom king or class president. That meant something then, but if I had used my energy for high school popularity, I would not have had this amazing experience abroad. Nor would I have had the opportunity to host Danielle, my Canadian pen pal of 12 years, and give her my own tour of the place where I live (a whole blog itself). In a way, that means that all my time spent in front of a box actually contributed the most to getting out of one.