Making Life More Interesting
What makes our lives interesting? It’s a combination of a variety of elements including our lifestyles, our work (if we’re lucky) and the people we interact with. We can’t choose our family but we can choose our friends. And why not choose people who are a little different to you? Of course, there are differences within families as well but there is also a lot of similarities due to the fact that you are brought up in one household and, inevitably, influenced by one another. Friends, on the other hand, can come from a variety of backgrounds, lifestyles, religions and a whole host of other factors which make us all unique. Having a diverse group of friends not only makes the world a more interesting place but also offers us an opportunity to learn.
We are all brought up by our parents in a certain way. Whether you are born into a religious household or one that believes in a certain branch of politics, we are influenced from birth by our parents. Even if we are brought up to be open-minded and encouraged to form our own opinions, this in itself is a learned trait and one which we inherit from our open-minded and accepting parents. But friends? Well, they can bring something different into our lives; diversity.
I grew up in a tiny village in the south west of England. There were fewer than 200 people living there and every one of them was a white, middle class Brit. In my entire high school of 1,200 students, there was one black child. Interestingly, he wasn’t bullied at all and in fact was very popular. What I’m trying to say is that for most of my childhood, I wasn’t exposed to different cultures, religions or ways of life. While my parents are incredibly open-minded and liberal in their views (something I have, of course, inherited) the place in which we lived simply didn’t offer many opportunities for me to interact with anyone other than white middle-class children.
Since moving abroad, I have had the opportunity to meet and become friends with people from all over the world. The diversity of my friendship group is one of the best things about being an expat and something I hadn’t realised I craved until I came here. Much as I enjoyed my childhood, I can’t help but think I missed out on having friends from different backgrounds at a young age. While I was brought up by liberal parents, many of the people I grew up with have racist and homophobic views simply because they lived such a sheltered life. Exposure to people who are not like us teaches us acceptance while a lack of exposure teaches us fear.
But having a diverse group of friends is about more than just meeting different people. They’re interesting people too. Far more interesting, in many ways, that the people who filled my childhood. I would say no offence but I know the people I’m referring to aren’t reading this because what this blog represents is not something they value in their lives. I have some wonderful, interesting and treasured friends from the UK but they are fewer in number than my friends in Cambodia. The people I have met since being an expat have brought such a wide range of ideas, practices and backgrounds to my attention and my life is constantly filled with interesting conversations. While my friends from home and I share many of the same ideas, I regularly have engaging, stimulating discussions with my expat friends, where the exchange of different opinions is far more rewarding than general acceptance of the same values.
Diversity in a friendship group not only makes you a more accepting person but it also offers the opportunity to learn about different cultures. Whether this is a religion you know little about or someone born and raised in another country, our friends can teach us so much about their background just by allowing us to get to know them and sharing our life experiences. They may even encourage you to have new experiences by introducing you to their hobbies or practices. And this is a two-way street: you can teach them things too. What could be more interesting than sharing your life with people who aren’t the same as you? Sure, you could go to have coffee every Saturday with the same group of friends and reminisce about those days in primary school together and that’s great. It’s important to have long-term friends and those whom have a strong, positive connection to the past. But it’s also a good idea to welcome new friends too; friends who can introduce you to a different way of looking at the world, a different side of life. After all, the same gets boring after a while, right? Try to mix up your friend group and introduce a little diversity and see how much more interesting life can become.
Finally, you can have more than one group of friends. Often, a diverse friendship group itself is difficult to socialise with as one. My friends from back home might struggle to hang out for hours with my Cambodian friends due to the cultural differences and the language barrier; something I have learnt to overcome after many years here. Similarly, some of my expat friends simply have nothing in common either with my Cambodian friends nor my friends from the UK. They just won’t mix. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with all of them. I encourage you to not necessarily expand your existing friendship groups as that can be difficult but to seek out new ones. Broaden your horizons by broadening your exposure to more people and discover a whole new, interesting way of living.