The Power of Friendship Abroad

Ian Johnson
February 19, 2015

As a student studying abroad, you are constantly meeting new people and forming new friendships – whether students from IES, a different study abroad program, or local universities. These social, peer-minded relationships are great, but my purpose for writing today is to shed light on a different type of friendship I´ve formed here in Barcelona. When I say different, I’m speaking in purely contextual terms. For at the end of the day, all friendships are the same in the sense that they bring us together to form one of the more powerful bonds in life.


The Power of Friendship Abroad

It´s Thursday afternoon and I´ve just walked out of the IES building to grab lunch in between my classes. With hundreds of restaurants lining the side streets nearby Placa Catalunya, my dining options are essentially limitless. Nonetheless, I take a left and head for the same restaurant I’ve been visiting every Thursday afternoon since living in Barcelona. The restaurant is called Surya, a small, traditional Indian restaurant just two minutes away from IES. Surya offers everything an avid foodie could ask for: authentic Indian dishes made with the freshest ingredients an upbeat and comfortable ambience, and extraordinary service.

The delicious dishes and eclectic dining atmosphere can be attributed to the owner and incredible cooks diligently working in the kitchen. The service, however, is the masterful work of my good friend, Estaban, who greets me as soon as I walk through the door.

“Hola amigo!” he exclaims as I walk through the door.

I’m always the first customer to enter the restaurant on Thursdays, tactfully missing the lunch rush by one full hour. As the only customer dining, I’ve formed a close friendship with Estaban, the lead waiter at Surya. Estaban is a tall, dark-skinned man in his late fifties. Originally from the La Dominica, he has a thick Latin American accent that complements his soft tone of speech.  His warm face and kind smile emit a very pleasant demeanor about him, and one cannot help but feel more relaxed when being in his presence.

“Buenas dias, Estaban!¨ I reply.

I walk over to my usual seat at the far left corner of the restaurant. Estaban walks to the back and brings me a menu. We speak for a few minutes. Today it’s casual talk about the weather, but each day we choose a different topic. As a customer, I have taken the time to get to know Estaban. And as my waiter, he has spent equal time getting to know me. It was a personal connection that formed instantly when we first met. He enjoyed my broken Spanish and positive attitude toward learning the Spanish language. He appreciated my respectful manner and gratitude for his service. Similarly, I liked everything about the man. He was kind, openhearted, and incredibly generous.

I take a minute to decide on my order, which usually ends one of two ways: seared salmon kabobs with a side of roasted vegetables or grilled lamb skewers with papadum, a crisp bread made with Indian lentils and spices. However, grilled vegetables and papadum are not the usual side options for these entrees. In fact, there are no side options for these dishes.

During my second visit, Estaban noticed how much I enjoyed the grilled vegetables and papadum I ordered as sides, so he decided to incorporate them into my entrée, free of charge. Some may call this a perk that comes with being a loyal customer — after all I do visit the restaurant at least once a week. Others may call it an entrepreneurial attempt on Estaban’s part to boost customer retention. But I like to think Estaban does this because he knows I truly enjoy and appreciate it. And appreciate it I do. Today I go with the salmon kabobs and grilled vegetables. The food is absolutely delicious, and I finish my meal a more-than-satisfied customer. Estaban walks over a few minutes later to collect my plate. He smiles at me and asks how my meal was.

“Perfecto mi amigo. Siempre perfecto,” I reply. (Perfect my friend. Always perfect)

We exchange a few more friendly words as I pay my bill. I then drop a few coins into the tip jar atop the checkout counter.

“Gracias, mi amigo,” he says.

“De nada,” I reply.

He shakes my hand and pats my shoulder, as he always does before I leave. We exchange a friendly smile before I head out the front door. Each time I walk out of Surya, my day is a little bit brighter because of the incredible meal and experience, but more so because of my interaction with Estaban. Each day we learn a little more about one another. We don’t interact in any other social contexts outside of the restaurant, but that does not matter. We have become great friends.

Having a friend such as Estaban in your daily life is important. Forming friendships with the people around you in your community is important. You don’t have to invite them over for dinner — just take a minute to get to know them. Whether it’s the old man who owns the supermarket across my street, my friend who manages the entrance to the IES building, or Estaban, these people we see everyday through our daily schedules and routines could be incredible people. We just need to take the time to get to know them.

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Ian Johnson

<div>I am a junior undergraduate at Indiana University&rsquo;s Kelley School of Business, majoring in Marketing &amp; International Business. I am also a member of the Kelley Consulting Workshop &mdash; a program geared toward building analysis, presentation, and teamwork capabilities for a competitive career in consulting. I am currently pursuing a career in Marketing Strategy and Brand Development. As a value-driven individual passionate about holistic health and well-being, I continue to search for new opportunities to contribute to the health and longevity of our people and planet.</div>

2015 Spring
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International Business
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