Why Short Adventures Form Stronger Friendships
They’re short, intense, and filled with effortless bonding. So, 15 hours into our drive to North Carolina, I feel it. Spring Break has begun.
I also feel a banana peel wedged into my neck.
This spring break, I traveled to Durham, North Carolina with Harvard’s Habitat for Humanity. During the week, we cut wood, hammered nails, and attempted to construct a house.
I’m writing from our drive back to Harvard. Looking around at my fellow volunteers, it’s clear the week changed our dynamic. A week ago, our conversations stayed surface-level. We talked about winter weather, favorite classes, and the occasional March Madness. Now, however, we talk about summer plans, shared memories of Durham, and our abysmal histories with significant others.
In a week, we made a huge jump: from acquaintance to life-long friend.
So, what happened? How could a week create stronger friendships than a year? And how could we replicate this in other parts of our lives?
Over the past year, I’ve made it my goal to have short, intense trips more frequently. In part, this decision comes from personal failures. College is often busy. So, though deep friendship have bloomed, many interactions I have are painfully surface level. During college, I've realized one thing.
Without outside constraints, we skim over the top of others’ lives, just as they skim over the top of ours.
But, we can change this. In particular, the Habitat for Humanity spring break trip had three factors that differed from average college life.
First, the trip limited the number of people (11).
Next, we isolated ourselves from the outside world.
Finally, the trip focused on novel experiences.
Short, intense trips help conversations grow deeper. With repeated, 5-10 minute interactions (such as in college) it’s difficult to hear more than a simple check-up. As well, with hundreds of interactions each day, we rarely dive deep into others' lives. Research shows personal disclosure is the root of strong friendships. Short-term trips make this happen.
Short-term adventures create stronger friendships. They limit group size and force members to grow close in their isolation.
Short-term trips also promote bonding by creating novel memories. In this past trip with Habitat, I gained memories of thumb-wrestling with cops, watching Harvard beat Yale to enter the NCAA tournament, and slurping more oatmeal than I ever thought possible. As many researchers point out, shared activity is the basis for meaningful relationships.
Intense, one-off trips promote bonding by pushing individuals into unique situations.
As well, by forcing groups together, they make sure that these memories are shared.
So, how can we apply these lessons to our own lives? For one, we should take advantage of one-off events. Hackathons, conferences, or trips are great opportunities. Furthermore, certain organizations help provide these opportunities. The traveling Model UN team at Harvard, for example, has 4 - 5, 2-day tournaments each semester. The Outing Club, similarly, holds one-off, outdoor adventures for members most weekends.
We need to embrace isolation. In doing so, we create spaces for friendships to grow. As well, we seek adventures for life-long memories.
This won’t come naturally. It’s easy to rationalize rejecting one-off trips in order to stay “productive” or “focused”. But, don't fall for that trap.
Remind yourself: people come first.
Take the chance.
Take the trip.
Summer camp has just begun.