Leisure/Travel

Serendipity

The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.

Merriam-Webster dictionary uses this description to define the word serendipity.

I reviewed the meaning of this term last Christmas with my Danish friend Kristina. We had met randomly and, as we like to say, serendipitously at a local Uptown bar in New Orleans, Louisiana. Both of us had recently started school at Tulane University and, on that idle Thursday night, had been dragged by our new respective friend groups to break for a few beers.

Neither of us knew many people in the city yet and, out of sheer placement of bar chairs and two outgoing personalities, we got to talking. She had come to New Orleans for a semester-long study abroad program from Denmark. I had just quit my nonprofit job in Chicago, Illinois to pursue my Master’s Degree. We bonded instantly over our shared passion for travel.

Kristina and I became instant friends. We met a few weeks later for dinner and then many more times throughout the fall semester.

My new friend decided to stay in the United States through the New Year. She wanted to see a “local family Christmas,” so spent the week with my family in Upstate New York. With my brother off traveling Southeast Asia, we were already down one family member and Kristina played the role of a perfect stand-in.

It was during this week that we discussed the word serendipity. We had been driving to Niagara Falls for a day trip when Kristina turned to me. “Is there an English word that talks about two people meeting like we did and now sharing such unexpected, wonderful experiences like this?”

“Serendipity,” I replied.

We learned a lot from each other. I gave Kristina her first experience frosting Christmas sugar cookies and she introduced me to her delicious homemade Danish bread. We shared many conversations about traveling the world, including places we’d been and our individual hopes to visit Africa someday. At the time, though, that dream seemed a distant option for both of us.

In May, I received an international field placement in Kigali, Rwanda. As part of Tulane’s Global Social Work program, I had the option to request a placement abroad for my last semester, but had no guarantee of the final arrangement.

While considering countries to visit on my way overseas, I happened upon a conversation with a fellow classmate. She told me about a stopover program offered by Icelandair – fly from the U.S. to any of the Scandinavian countries and stay in Iceland for up to four days at no extra cost.

I immediately messaged Kristina. I explained that I would be spending the fall semester in Africa and was considering making a stop in Copenhagen beforehand.

As it turned out, Kristina had also just been placed in a volunteer position in Uganda, the country that borders Rwanda’s Northeast side. Kampala, the capital city where she would work, is only about an eight-hour drive from Kigali.

How funny, we thought, that we both would be in Africa at the same time…not to mention in neighboring countries.

Two weeks ago, I visited Kristina in Copenhagen. It was the first we had seen each other since Christmas, and an exciting reunion for two friends who reside on separate continents. As we ate lunch one day in a small beach town outside Copenhagen, I asked nonchalantly, “What airline will you fly to Kampala? And when do you leave?”

“Turkish Airways,” she replied. “I leave on the third of September.”

The same as me.

“Actually, I have a layover in Istanbul,” she continued, remembering that I would be visiting Turkey for six days after leaving Denmark. “And, then in Kigali!”

We stared at each other for a few moments, then rushed home to compare flight times.

Kristina and I had one of those fast-growing friendships that made our connection both deep and undeniable. When we parted our tear-filled ways last December, I knew we would see each other again. Our distant homelands just left us without knowing when.

We had only spent one semester’s worth of time together in the same city. We kept in touch, certainly, but went along living our individual lives. And, as it turned out, planning our quite parallel futures.

Now, almost one year to the day we met, we will spend one more semester only eight hours apart on a continent completely new and foreign to us both.

None of it was planned. None of it was expected. But somehow, some serendipitous way, we booked ourselves two independent tickets from two separate continents into the same small city of Kigali, Rwanda.

And now, here we are – one American and one Dane sitting next to each other on Turkish Airways, thousands of feet above the earth on a serendipitous plane ride to Africa.