Friendship bridges distance and cultural differences

Amy Zijia Niu
England was still 5,000 miles from Shanghai, but the distance didn't seem to matter as much now. I had found a friend.
Amy Zijia Niu
Friendship bridges distance and cultural differences

"England is approximately 5,000 miles from Shanghai," I read aloud as I stared at the line of small block letters on the Google page. The words somehow made the distance seem so short, so unimportant.

It had been days since I had arrived at my new English boarding school, but nothing was different from the first day I arrived.

COVID-19 was as strong as ever, and when looking across the hall, all you could see was a sea of masks. In the corner of the gigantic castle, life-sized Barbie dolls adorned in a dress made out of masks stared at me with their haunted eyes. It seemed like new pandemic cases were popping up left and right, unfamiliar faces vanishing day by day. Cultural differences acted as a permanent barrier for me.

All my roommates wanted to party, talk about sport, and paint their nails instead of studying. They invited me to do mani-pedi while watching a movie about Serena Williams with them, but I turned down their request, thinking it was unnecessary and a waste of my time. I miss my old life.

The days were dragged by. I started calculating time in seconds. Three hundred and 30 seconds until class starts. Five hundred and 68 seconds until bedtime. Every second seemed grueling, and all I could do was stare at the surface of my watch as my roommates chattered and laughed. I phoned my parents every day. They seemed so palpable, but whenever I reached out, my hands grasped the air, and the reality of the 5,000 miles settled in again.

My roommates' lives had always seemed so picture-perfect. Knowing plenty of people, having no lack of friends, and designer jackets. I automatically started to see them as "different species." Cooler ones. Better ones. One can only imagine my astonishment when I heard my roommate sniffling quietly in her bed late at night. This sniffling girl was my unbreakable, stone-cold roommate, who never had a care in the world. Sobbing.

At first, I merely lay there in my bed, eyes closed, pretending to be asleep to avoid the embarrassment if I shifted and she would realize that I was awake. Yet, I couldn't help but want to comfort her somehow. It must be something of great magnitude to her that had gone wrong. I sat up and tentatively asked, "Are you okay?"

Almost immediately, I cringed at my question. She was crying; how can she be okay, I asked myself. She sat up, her body going rigid for a moment, before shaking her head and sobbing even louder than before.

"My ... my god ... godmother is ... is dead, and it was because of CO ... CO ... VID. She ... she was vac ... vaccinated," she whined incoherently.

"Everything will be all right in time. Have a good sleep tonight," I replied with (what I hope was) a comforting smile.

"No!" She howled. "We were close! She was my friend and confidant! She was in Ukraine, so I never got the chance to say goodbye! I want to fly back for the funeral tomorrow, but I have to quarantine to get there; thus, I can't go to the funeral anyhow."

I was silent for a moment before responding, "How about we make a mini funeral here, in memory of her?"

"Okay. Thank you, you made me feel a lot better just by listening," she said quietly.

Somehow, I felt relieved after this exchange. I finally fathomed that someone else was also having problems about being so distant from home.

We were all mere children, children far away from home that needed someone to reassure them, be there for them, and love them. By comforting her, the hole in my heart was also closed.

England was still 5,000 miles from Shanghai, but the distance didn't seem to matter as much now. I had found a friend.

The author is a 13-year-old Shanghai girl now studying at Cheltenham Ladies' College in the UK.

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