The saying goes that when you get to college, you’ll find your friends for life. As a cynic, I considered that a barrel of nonsense. What about all my close high school friends? And middle school friends? And elementary school friends?
I’m here to admit that I was wrong.
I did find some of my closest friends in college, and I’m not even into my third year yet. Middle school who? I’m lucky enough to have found one of my closest friends at UCLA, and shockingly, we went to the same high school.
Where, you ask? Zürich, Switzerland. That’s not exactly the “San Diego” or “Bay Area” answers you expect when you ask someone where they’re from in one of the biggest state schools in the country.
Now for some much needed context. When you look at the list of places I’ve lived, you would probably assume one thing: army brat. But I’m not. I’ve lived in North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, D.C., England and Switzerland. Now I’m in L.A. I haven’t stayed in any place longer than five years, and have lived several places for less than a year (D.C. …what an interesting place).
Still think army brat? Sadly, no. My parents both worked as professors so they followed the big-name schools across the country. That, and they both get bored very, very easily.
So the school that I finally graduated from was called the Inter-Community School Zürich (ICS) in Zürich, Switzerland. Now, for all of those who don’t know where that is, it’s a city in the middle of the country (that isn’t Sweden) between Germany, Italy and France.
How big was the school do you ask? My grade marked the biggest with only 80 people. You knew everyone in your grade, but you didn’t fraternize with other grades very much—unless you wanted someone to buy you actual alcohol. In Switzerland, the legal drinking age for beer and wine was 16. But true rebels grew out of that pretty fast and need the big stuff which became legal at 18.
Anyways, we pretty much stayed away from the older kids. I knew a lot of the younger kids because of my younger sister, and I worked in theater at my high school. And all of my greatest friendships blossomed because of theater.
As one of the older kids, I started as a stage manager for a middle school production my first year at ICS, in tenth grade. That jump started my love for theater, and led me to ultimately what I hope will also become my career path.
The semester after that experience, I worked on our big annual musical as the head of costumes for Thoroughly Modern Millie. Most of the kids in the grade above me took charge of it (stage managing, directing, so forth). I never really spoke to them, but they did their jobs well.
The stage manager, a girl named Manisha, was especially efficient. Once, I accidentally turned on the light of the backstage area during a show. She came over and said simply, “I don’t care who did it, I just want everyone to stay away from the light switch.”
We never officially met or spoke except for that moment.
And then I mostly just hoped to disappear into the floor. That makes it even crazier to think that three years later, Manisha would become one of my closest friends.
Now, how did we suddenly end up the best of friends at UCLA, when we never even spoke? Excellent question.
I will start by setting the scene: I continued with theater in college. By the beginning of my second year, I joined the Production Management (PM) staff of HOOLIGAN Theatre Company. a student run, educational theater company on campus. Every department hires twice a year and you must complete your intern project within a quarter to become an associate.
By the new school year, I graduated from intern and felt as excited as ever. We also hired two brand new interns to join the squad. Our head told us their names and that they would come to a meeting on Friday.
One of the names was Manisha Sondhi. I looked at the name and wondered. How very strange. It sounds so familiar.
What did I do next? Naturally, I Facebook stalked her. I needed to figure out if I was right! It turns out not only did we both hold strong positions in theater in ICS, but we also shared an interest in film, we’d both lived in England and she was close friends with the sister of one of my good guy friends.
I couldn’t wait to meet her—actually meet her this time—and tell her we came from the same high school. I whispered to my friends that she went to the same school, and they shared my disbelief.
At the end of the meeting, I walked up to her and asked, “Did you go to ICS in Zürich?” Her eyes lit up with shock and we both squealed. Now we could complain, reminisce and even visit together.
That began a friendship that I hope will last forever. We love the same things, we had the same sass and we were irritated by the same people. We even talked about the old days at ICS. She laughed when I told her it was me that flipped the light switch.
Manisha goes to school in London and took a year abroad in UCLA, so sadly she won’t return to UCLA next year. Luckily, she lives in London (a place where I am determined to live) and visits Zürich twice a year. Though I tend to avoid Zürich like the plague. But, you get my point. She’s on a continent I visit frequently.
Now, most people would just feel grateful that they found a new friend. But for me, it meant more.
I found someone who came from the same history and background. She also completely understood the huge cultural differences I managed. I’m an American, but lived in Europe a whole eight years before I came to college.
My family also moved to Scotland when I graduated. I get to go back “home” to Europe twice a year to visit. But that also means I take myself to college and unpack my room myself while most students’ parents help them haul their big suitcases or take them to Target or eat dinner with them before the tearful goodbye.
I didn’t get that and it felt really lonely. I didn’t really connect with the state-school kids, the out-of-state kids that fly home for Thanksgiving or even the international kids whose parents can afford to visit. My parents have yet to see my college, but hopefully will when I graduate.
I’m not trying to throw a pity party. I’m ing why finding Manisha was more than finding a close friend. She reminds me of home. We have a connection that is rare to find when you come from Switzerland.
I’ve adjusted and am grateful for the beautiful world of UCLA and all it has given me, including some unbelievable wonderful friends who aren’t from Zürich. But I am also grateful that Manisha gave me a connection to home.
Luckily, this crazy coincidence turned into not only a great story, but also the origin of a friendship. Even though she’s leaving all of us to go back to London, I’ll see her soon—even if “soon” become a year.
Manisha showed me that I can find home in my heart and in my memories. So even though this tale is about the most insane of circumstances, it’s also about remembering that even when you’re missing home, home isn’t that far away.