There are two kind of international camaraderie. The first is meeting someone in your travels, never expecting to see them again, and then constantly running into them when you don't expect it. We experienced this in Belgium. We were five travelers in a six-bed room so I figured we would have a roommate at some point during our stay. I was in the same situation when I went to London last year, and we got some great stories out of our roommates, so I was excited to meet a fellow traveler.
When I woke up the first night to the loudest snoring ever coming from Patrick's bunk, I was not excited. It briefly crossed my mind that he hadn't been snoring in Barcelona, but I was more concerned with what I could throw at him to get him to stop. A lull in the racket allowed me to get back to sleep without injuring him.
I joined two of my friends in the kitchen in the morning and we commiserated about the loud interruption to our much-needed sleep. They told me that the snoring didn’t come from Patrick, but our new roommate who had arrived after we went to bed. I was prepared to shoot him mean glances from my bed for the rest of the stay until I met Flavio, our adorable and super nice Argentinian roommate.
We learned all about each other (he's 30 and an anesthesiologist), talked about American versus Argentinean political systems, and got into such an interesting conversation one night that we left for dinner far later than we had planned. After three nights, both Flavio and our group left the hostel. We were going to Bruges for one night and would then return to Brussels for the rest of the trip. He was going to a small town between Brussels and Bruges and would then continue to Bruges. Wouldn't it be funny if we ran into him again, we joked?
After we got settled in our hostel in Bruges, I went to the hostel desk to ask where we could pick up the boat to take a tour of the canals. While waiting in the line, I looked in the full-wall mirror and caught a glimpse of the sweater the man in front of me was wearing. "Flavio?" I asked, and the man in front of me turned to greet me 12 hours after we said goodbye. "Oh my God!" I exclaimed and motioned to my friends to show them who I had found. We saw Flavio a few more times that trip around the hostel, and had breakfast with him on the morning we left. We'll never see him again (although, that's what we said when we left Brussels), but Flavio was an important part of our vacation. He was our friend for a few days, a familiar face when we only knew four other people in the whole country, and the guy whose murder I plotted every night when he woke me up with his snoring.
The second kind of international camaraderie is one that I experience at least once a week. It's hearing someone speaking your language in another country and feeling an instant connection to them. Even if you would never talk to each other at home, a common language makes them the closest thing to a piece of home that you have at that moment. This kind of connection usually happens when people are out of even the comfort zone that they’ve created for themselves abroad: for example, when trying to navigate a foreign city. When we arrived in Bruges, we had to get to our hostel. The confirmation email said to take bus 10 and that the driver would tell us where to get off. "The driver said he was going to tell us which stop it was, but I don't know how. Maybe you should sit up front so he can get your attention," I overheard a lady on the bus say to her husband. Hearing a situation that was exactly the same as ours from someone who was clearly American gave us a bond. We chatted, exchanged travel stories and helped each other find our ho(s)tels, which turned out to be on the same street.
I would never talk to someone I didn't know at home unless I was really desperate for directions. Abroad, someone who is confused and hears you speaking English will rush over and ask for directions, sure that if you share a language, you'll help them out. And you always do. You're traveling different journeys, but you can count on the fact that they both have the potential to be hard enough without someone from your own country, or someone you shared a hostel room with, complicating them. That's what taxi drivers, waiters and anybody who is impatient with non-native speakers is for. Meeting someone who is in the same situation as you makes you comrades, playing on the same team in the adventure called being abroad.