On Writing with Complete Strangers in a Foreign Country
By Kristina Ching
A month ago I stepped off a plane and on to European soil for the first time in my life. I was in the Netherlands on my way to Haarlem, a small city outside of Amsterdam in order to write for the Press Corps at the Haarlem Model United Nations conference.
A month earlier, I had applied and been accepted onto the Press Team for the conference. All I knew was that we would be reporting on the conference and publishing a daily issue of the HMUN Chronicle. What I didn’t know however, was that at the same time, I would be making an entirely new group of amazingly close friends out of complete strangers.
I really didn’t know what these people would be like; there’s only so much you can assume from a group chat. We went through the introductions and the pleasantries, I followed them all on Instagram, inferred as much as I could from the broken translations of their captions written in Dutch.
Nothing could have prepared me for who I ended up meeting. The same night the plane landed, there was a dinner at one of the girl’s homes so we could bond before the conference began. I walked into a loud kitchen/dining room with a massive table surrounded by almost twenty people, the same ones I had been talking to for a month. It was weird, they were real, and I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.
That night, over homemade pizzas, I got to know some of the kindest people I have ever met. Everyone was so excited to finally meet us (me and another student from THS) and to ask us all they could about life here. We laughed, sang and danced, and I left that night glowing knowing that I would be getting to spend the next three days doing what I was passionate about with such an amazing group.
The conference was a new experience for me. Every morning we’d show up to the school, and walk two flights of stairs up to what we lovingly called “The Press Palace,” (an attic room with multi-colored pennants hanging from the wooden rafters and an inflatable shark perched at the base of one.)
Lucas, the head of press, would call the meeting to order and we’d gather around the makeshift board table. He’d give us our assignments and our deadline and everyone would get to work. But “work” felt like anything but. I got to write surrounded by new friends who were amazingly talented as well.
Over cups of tea, grilled cheese, Dutch candy, and in between running to interviews, lunch, and the coffee shop across the street, I became so close to the entire press team. We talked about everything and I learned so much about growing up in Haarlem. It’s crazy to realize that even across the world, we could be so similar and get along so well.
After everything was submitted we’d send the Chronicle mock-up off to the printing man. After a celebratory dance party and some downtime, Lucas would ascend the steps up to the room, boxes filled with the latest issue of our Chronicle. I can’t describe the feeling of being able to hold my own work in my hands. Seeing it, and knowing that we had all worked so hard, and were all so proud of what we had done, nothing could be better.
The entire experience left me exhausted, as we fit so much into such a short trip, but I left Europe so happy. The people I met impacted me so much, and I am so grateful to them for their kindness. I cried when I left Haarlem and my new-found friends, but I made sure they knew that if they ever came to California, they’d have a place to stay, and a personal tour guide. It’s not often complete strangers become some of your closest friends in the span of three days; it was the least I could do.