Friendships: Looking Back and Looking Forward

When first arriving in the United States, it can be hard to breakthrough those superficial boundaries and develop deep connections with Americans. Of course as our Global UGRAD students have found, the effort is always worth it. Each semester our students forge beautiful, rewarding friendships. Now, as another semester comes to an end, and our Global UGRAD students wave goodbye at airports across the country, we look towards our alumni for their stories on how they created these friendships during the program, and now how they continue to nourish them across continents. Below, Mitrashi Das and her friend Allie, Kimara Bernard and her friend Gabrielle, and Kelvin Getuno and his “adopted” family the Maiers share their experience and insight.


Kelvin with his “adopted family”, the Maiers


Q: What did you know or think about my country before we met? What is something you admire about my culture or country now?

Allie: I had a friend from India before I met Mitrashi, but I never realized how diverse India was as a country. Mitrashi taught me that all the different areas of India had similar, yet different cultures that created a diverse blend. I also told Mitrashi I was a vegetarian, and she shared with me how India was such a great country for vegetarian cuisine which is something I never realized.

Mitrashi: I knew that America or the United States was a developed country with a mélange of cultures. I admire the fact that America is a tolerant and culturally diverse nation. Most importantly, Americans have such big hearts-that’s something to learn.

Kimara: I am used to traveling to the U.S. but only for vacation with my family, I had no idea how living there felt like. Before I met Gabrielle, I thought that living in the U.S. was like they what show in the movies or TV shows, but I got it all wrong, it was way much better than I expected. On the other hand, before she had met me, she did not know much about Haïti. She said she knew that Haïti had experienced some devastating natural disasters. She also knew that Haïti was a smaller country, and a lot people in Haïti speak French. Overall, she thinks Haïti and the Haitian culture are amazing. Some customs and morals that are part of the American culture have come to light. I really appreciated the diversity and the mix of different cultures that are found there.

The Maiers: I knew the name of the country. We loved Kelvin. If he is an example of the type of people there are in Kenya, we are impressed. 

Kelvin: America, the Land of the Free and the brave, the American dream, world’s greatest superpower, green card, slavery, and 9/11 are some of the terms that I could associate with the U.S. and of course Obama and more recently Trump. I also thought U.S. schools have the worst students ever, rowdy and disrespectful, plus I was prepared psychologically for racial slurs to be thrown my way on the streets. Well, I was very disappointed!! After my UGRAD stay and interaction with the locals, I can confidently say I loved the country, first because of the many opportunities that are there for growth but more importantly for the warmth I was shown everywhere I went. I enjoyed how animated people got with the various ceremonies, from Halloween to Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was always a competition as to who decorated their house the best or had the best attire for the event. 

Q: How did you become friends, and what made you want to be friends? Was there anything that made it difficult to become friends with an American or international person?

Allie: We met each other by being roommates in Fall 2016 semester, but our friendship bloomed when we realized we both had similar personalities and shared similar values. We wanted to be friends because of these shared values, which encouraged us to learn more about each other, as well as our similarities and differences growing up in America versus India. I think we both had a genuine curiosity about each other’s cultures that led us to a good friendship. I do not think there was any difficulty in us becoming friends at all.

Mitrashi: I agree, our cultures were both different and alike in numerous ways. We were naturally curious to know more about each other and our background and countries, hence, that paved the path to a great friendship. There wasn’t anything difficult that we came across in our journey to become friends, since both of us have outgoing personalities.

Kimara: I met Gabrielle on the first week of school in August. I met her through my friend, Soumayani, who was also in the Global UGRAD program. Gabee was, and still is, super sweet and funny. We just kind of bonded and became friends. There were not too many difficulties in becoming friends. If anything, there were some instances where she needed to explain an English word, usually slang.

The Maiers: We met at a display booth where we were interesting people in our church. No, we immediately connected. He was warm and friendly. 

Kelvin: The world calls it fate, the Spiritual call it divine connection. This is how I define my relationship with Eleanor and Cliff Maier. I randomly bumped into them at the fall festival. I walked round and stopped by their table because they were running a competition where one filled a questionnaire and could be picked for a prize worth several dollars. They were representing C.R.U, a Christian students’ organization that was supported by their Church. A few minutes into our conversation I had established that the Missionary in charge of Tenwek Mission Hospital in Kenya was from their Church and that besides being interested in having a conversation with me about my faith, the couple was willing to come pick me up for Church that Sunday; my only duty was to gather a bunch of my friends to fill one or two cars, this I did easily as my two UGRAD mates were easily reachable. It really impressed them. This would later morph into an every Sunday affair. They would always introduce me as “their son” and when their daughter Fern came to visit they were like, come meet your brother from Kenya. Essentially, common faith and interests brought us together and knowledge of a common person, the Doctor at Tenwek. Or like we always reminded each other, God brought us together.

Q: What was your best experience together?

 Allie: I think our best experience together was when my family and I took Mitrashi to a restaurant and some tourist attractions downtown. It was very nice to share my city with her and have a good time doing so.

Mitrashi: I’ll always remember that evening -we took in the various sights and sounds of Pittsburgh at night and had a delicious meal. I also remember  roaming the streets around Chatham University with Allie, trying authentic sushi for the first time, and just wandering in the neighborhood.

Gabrielle: It is always a fun time with Kim. From eating in the cafeteria together to exploring Pittsburgh, it was always with laughs and smiles, which makes it challenging to choose one memory. Even simple days on campus were transformed into enjoyable memories.

Kimara:  I am going to cherish every single moment we spent together but the best memories with Gabee are our late-night chats in the common area, we used to stay up all night watching movies with Soumayani, Nayu, and Kylie.

The Maiers: We invited him and his friends over to our house and had bible studies together. They all became like sons. We had a great a relationship. Kelvin discovered I was ill one week and he showed up in our yard on his bicycle which he called his Mercedes. We ask what is on your mind. He said, “You are on my mind.” That was very special to us. He then gave me a get well card. How special.

Kelvin: With time, the friendship grew to home visits and dinners and then one day during fall, the Maiers suggested they take my friends and I for a ride to their favorite spot. The drive there was very sentimental as we were able to experience the beauty of fall in it’s entirety, the purple, the yellow, the orange mixed with the green of the pine was a breathtaking sight to behold. It covered both sides of a bridge where trees of all colors dotted the expanse.

Q: Were you ever confused about anything I did, and if so, how did you resolve this miscommunication?

 Allie: I do not remember a time that I was confused about anything Mitrashi did.

Mitrashi: We never had any miscommunication as such. Whatever amazed or shocked me were always explained to me by a very patient and often amused Allie.

Kelvin: The only thing I had remember is to speak a bit louder while with them since they’re quite advanced in age. I remember though how towards the end of the program we had planned to go for one of our drives with the other two boys (Alex and Arkar), so I tried calling the Maiers on messenger, having deactivated my AT&T line. Little did I know that Eleanor had gone for medical checkup, so I rode my bike in the snow all the way to their house, knocked on the door for half an hour and nobody responded, so I wrote a sticky note and posted it on the glass door. Then right outside on the snow wrote. “Kelvin Was Here”…….well, it snowed a bit more before they came back and they never got the message but the sticky note saved the day.

Q: What is a slang word you heard me use that confused you, or did you learn any words from me?

Allie: As random as this is, I remember learning the word “coriander” meant cilantro. I simply remember this because we were eating food with that in it and we both had two different names for it.

Mitrashi: Just a few Pennsylvanian phrases that Allie used to drop occasionally and often jokingly- like woodah for water and dahntan for downtown.

Q: What have you learned from your friendship, or how has your friendship affected any choices you have made?

Allie: I think from our friendship we learned that most people, no matter where you come from, share more similarities than one would think. I think as we both have grown up in a globalized world, we both felt more connected to others around the world, than feeling apart. There was never a feeling that each other were not relatable because we came from different backgrounds. We were eager to learn about each other’s cultures, but also had levels to our friendship that went beyond that.

Mitrashi: I learnt that it is possible to be good friends, even if you’re continents apart. Taking this for example, when I received the email for the article, I immediately dropped Allie a text requesting her help. And she replied in a matter of seconds even though her tests are due in a week. That’s how strong our friendship is, and there’s so much to learn from it. I’ll be eternally grateful to Allie for all her help, support, and guidance throughout my stay in America and for being such a good friend to me.

Kimara: I have learned that somehow two people can meet, become friends, and feel like they’ve been friends for years all in the span of a few months. I have also learned to take better care of myself. I have been making healthier choices relating to eating, sleeping, and more. I also learned that I should open up more.

The Maiers: We learned how wonderful it is to associate with international students. We have a desire to continue to attempt to befriend international students that attend our university.

Kelvin: This friendship has taught me to never to judge humans by their age, color, race. orientation, religion of economic status. I have learnt that total strangers can meet and become best of friends and the magic trick is to be really open minded. I no longer have those biases I possessed in paragraph two. Nowadays I think really hard before I say anything on race because my Global UGRAD experience taught me tolerance, this old couple reinforced the lesson and now I enjoy diversity because I know our differences enrich the world in their own small ways. Their acceptance, their hospitality, their smiles and hugs, made my stay in Marquette more enjoyable and memorable.

Q: How do you keep in touch with each other now?

Allie and Mitrashi:We keep in touch today through social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat and through LinkedIn

Gabrielle: Kim and I keep in touch through WhatsApp, FaceTime, and Snapchat. When it was snowing in Pittsburgh during our “spring time,” Kim and I were on a video call, and I got to see the warm weather and plants in Haïti. I also got to meet Kim’s super sweet family and pets over video call. I am very thankful for technology that can help us keep in touch even though we are in different countries. I also planned on visiting Kim and her very welcoming family during summer vacation. Even if she promised me to come back home (to Pittsburgh) some time.

The Maiers: Via face book, messenger and he even called me on Christmas day to wish us Merry Christmas. We love Kelvin and his friends. They are as special to us as any of our American friends.

Kelvin: I have their messenger, mail, email and phone addresses, but we stay in touch via messenger. They are family now, I’m welcome to their home any time I visit and it feels good to be accepted.

Written by…

Mitrashi Das  (India, Global UGRAD 2016-17 at Chatham University), and Alli
Kimara Bernard (Haiti, Global UGRAD 2017-18 at Chatham University) and Gabrielle
Kelvin Getuno (Kenya, Global UGRAD 2017-18 at Northern Michigan University) and the Maiers family