The linear distance between Paute, Ecuador and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, is approximately 14,973 kilometres (9,303 miles). To put this into perspective for you, Cuenca, Ecuador and Subang Jaya, Malaysia, which are two of the cities that are the furthest apart from each other in the entire world, lie at a distance of 19,989 km (12,421 miles). So Paute – Ulaanbaatar definitely falls into the category of “as far apart as you can possibly get”.
Now you might be wondering why I’m providing you with all this incredibly uninteresting geographical data. Well, for me, these 14,973 kilometres are not just a number, they are what currently separates from one of the most important people in my life: my best friend Kathi.
Kathi and I are experienced in being apart. We have been for the past two years, when I left her to go live and study in Norway. We had known that I would leave for quite a while, and I personally didn’t worry about it. I knew our bond was incredibly strong, and I believed these two years wouldn’t change anything about that. For her, the situation looked different. She was the person being left behind, while I would start a completely new life, meeting new people. Understandably, she worried how this would change our relationship and her role in my life. The important thing was that we communicated, we shared our thoughts and fears with each other, and I could reassure her over and over that there was no reason to worry.
For me, long-distance friendships are similar to long-distance relationships in many ways. It’s god damn hard to be apart from the person you’re used to spending every day with, you could call up and meet anytime, you could share your most random thoughts with whenever you felt like. And long-distance friendships do require some effort to keep them going.
Kathi and I made sure to spend as much time together as we could whenever I was home. During the winter break of my first year in Norway, we went on a short trip to Prague together. After having been apart for 4 months, it was amazing and really important for me to share this experience of exploring a new city with her, and just spending quality time.
Whenever one of us leaves to travel or comes back from a trip, the other one will be at the airport with them if they can. Kathi has been there every single time I came home from Norway and let me tell you, there is no better feeling that walking through those doors and being run over and hugged by your favourite person in the world.
Another thing we would do was moving into each other’s homes for a few days during our breaks. Especially in times where we were both really busy and had to be out for appointments during the day, this made it a bit easier to still spend time together. Just being able to have a cup of tea together in the evening or go for long walks with her are things that I appreciated a lot and really miss now.
After two years of living apart, our bond had changed indeed. But it had changed for the better: we had built this incredible trust, that even if we don’t see each other for months, and even if we sometimes may not talk for weeks, we will still always be there for each other and the moment we call or meet again, it will feel just the same. We had also seen each other grow through different experiences in those two years, and it made me very proud to see what my best friend accomplished in this time.
Back then however, our linear distance looked more like this: 1,525 km (947.72 miles). There was no time difference, we were both living in Europe, and Kathi was even able to come and visit me in Norway, which was amazing!
When it became clear that we would both take a gap year abroad, the situation looked a little different. Now, there would be 13 (later 12) hours of time difference, a continent and an ocean between us. It may surprise you when I tell you now that I talk to Kathi almost every single day.
Even though we are living two very different lives on two different sides of the world, they are also quite similar. We are both on a gap year program, working as volunteers and helping in schools in a foreign country. We both get to experience a completely new culture and language, new people, places and work. Just in very different ways.
To be honest, the time difference was what worried me the most. My work starts very early in the morning, so I can’t call Kathi then. When it is the evening in my time zone, she has work. Luckily, even so, we quickly figured out the perfect time to talk: when Kathi is on her way to work, I will most likely have eaten dinner, and we can chat for at least 20-30 mins. (And then sometimes she doesn’t have anything to do at work and we get more time to talk ;)).
The last time I saw Kathi was in August, at the Munich airport. She had stayed the night at my place (another one of our traditions) and I hugged her one last time before I walked through security. The last thing I saw were my parents and her standing there and waving, not stopping until it was my turn and I couldn’t see them anymore.
When I come home this time, Kathi sadly won’t be able to pick me up from the airport, since she will be living in Mongolia until September. However, that is when my university starts and I will move to Scotland. So we had to figure out something else.
In April, I will come back home from Ecuador and then in May, I will visit a country I never thought I would go to: Mongolia. After 9 months of being apart, I can’t imagine a better way to finally see my best friend again, while at the same time getting to explore the country she called home for the past year with her!
Leaving your best friends and loved ones behind when you’re going abroad is a very common and valid fear. You may worry about what will happen to those relationships you value so much when you are away, when you can’t keep in contact as much as you’d like to. Sometimes, it may even keep you from leaving in the first place.
With this story, however, I hope to take a bit of that fear away from you. If your friends are anything like Kathi, they will want to see you grow and flourish, get out there and experience life. Of course it won’t be easy to let you go, but they will be happy for you and proud of you for taking that step.
And if you’re lucky like Kathi and I, it will make your bond stronger than you’d ever imagine.