Small World Syndrome

Traveling is always a lot of fun. Yet in all of my travels, I always seem to catch this condition known as, “Small World Syndrome.” It’s a condition of society I think, affecting most all individuals, especially in distally-connected but highly mobile cultures such as America or parts of Europe.

My first case of Small World came when I studied abroad in Australia fall semester of my Junior year at university. Moving into the residence hall that first night while most all of the residents were still away on holiday, myself and fellow abroaders head down to dinner. We are introduced to a few of the residents who are still around and one of them is suspiciously speaking in an American accent. When questioned about her home, I am informed she comes from Framingham, Massachusetts. I have traveled literally halfway around the world into the opposite hemisphere from my home only to run into someone who grew up 30 minutes from me but now permanently studies in Australia. Small world.

Being in Kenya with Peace Corps has only emphasized this condition, and not just between fellow PCVs who may find they grew up suspiciously close to one another as well. That is a bit more likely, as we are all American, all mostly coming from university, and statistically, all coming from a relatively small geographic distribution. Instead it is the encounters outside of Peace Corps volunteers that emphasize the smallness of our world.

Take, for example, one time I was sitting in the Jahazi coffee house in Old Town, Mombasa. A group of people come in and we strike up a conversation (this happens a lot; topic for another post as to why), and it turns out they are a missionary group. Talking more, I discover they come from America. Digging a little deeper, it turns out the gentleman of the group used to work at Putnam Investments in my hometown of Franklin, Massachusetts. Small world.

More recently, I was hosting a group of PCVs from Namibia who had finished their service and were traveling throughout Africa. One of the PCVs actually went to school with a PCV in Kenya and that was how they got my contact information. Upon talking, it turns out both of us have friends who were engaging in the Law School National Mock Trials competition in New Orleans. We had the two friends meet up just for kicks. Small world.

Stories like this happen all the time. The random connections you make with people are only strengthened when you learn you may have previously unknown shared experiences, in these cases friendships or proximal homes. I have had many times where I say to myself, “Small world,” while serving over here, but these three are just the most prominent in my memory at the moment. Anyone have a Small World moment they would like to share?

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4 responses to “Small World Syndrome

  1. The one from Framingham

    My favorite story:

    At my residence hall at uni, on the other side of the world from where I grew up, I had my high school yearbook on display at an international event. A fellow international student flips through it, points to a photo, and says “I went to school with her!”

    Turns out they’d been in the same school in India before she moved to Massachusetts and went to my high school, before I moved to Australia and shared his residence hall.

    What are the odds?

  2. Niki

    I found out yesterday that my friend from Villanova and Jason’s former girlfriend are not only both studying at BU Law, but have also turned into really close friends. Small world! It’s just a little sad that sometimes we find these fun facts out via Facebook!!

  3. McD

    Here’s my most recent small world story. Some friends and I are trying to identify everyone in our kindergarten class photos. Not easy to do because of the large Navy population that comes and goes in our town. One of the two photos has most of the names written on it. One guy’s name doesn’t ring any bells for me but it’s very unique. So back in November I Googled him and found him on Facebook in about 30 seconds. Turned out that his family moved away right after kindergarten (1964-65).

    There’s another unique name on the photo that doesn’t ring any bells. I Googled it but didn’t have any success because it was a girl and she probably married. A couple of months later I was on Classmates.com and thought to search for her there and found her along with her married name. Searched Facebook and found her there. Turns out her family also moved away after kindergarten.

    Last week the girl’s mother travelled to Hawaii to visit her sister. While there she runs into a woman who seems vaguely familiar but neither can place the other. Later, she calls her daughter and happens to mention this woman’s name and the daughter immediately recognizes the name from our class photo. It was the mother of the guy I that found. Turns out the two families lived next door to each other in Gales Ferry 45 years ago. If I hadn’t tracked the two of them down the mothers might never have remembered each other.

  4. CJ

    I was once on a plane to TN with a gentleman who was once a PCV in Kenya…