Cole was born in Greenville, SC, and raised by a single mom in the Baptist church. Mutaz was born in Jordan, raised in an immigrant family in the Islamic faith. One was more likely to be found reading poetry and acting; the other, playing soccer or running track. One was a white boy raised in the South, the other was a boy from the Middle East.
Yet through Bridges to a Brighter Future, they became best friends.
It was being strangers in the unfamiliar world of Bridges that first brought them together in 2012. Cole Foster, now a graduate of Anderson University and serving as Assistant Director for Bridges, noticed Mutaz was also standing alone at their first Bridges event and walked up to him, letting their bond as new members of the Pi Class lead the introduction.
Mutaz Sarhan, now a graduate of Furman University and a researcher with MUSC, was relieved to have a buddy. Looking back, he said: “Cole was the first person in Bridges to speak to me. I was very afraid of being in this new environment that was called Bridges. Cole came up to me and very confidently told me to stick with him. At this moment I felt calmer and more relaxed as I felt like I had made a friend.”
Two young men who might seem on the outside to be very different found that they weren’t so different after all. “My first impression of Mutaz,” Cole remembered, “was that he was a quiet kid much like myself at the time. I had never met someone that practiced Islam. However, after we both got to know each other we soon discovered that we both were just as alike as we were different.”
They bonded over comic books and superheroes, comparing their collections of Spiderman and Batman. They laughed at each other's jokes and made each other feel safe in a new environment. They shared about their faiths and cultures, and they learned that while the structures were different, their values of love and family were very similar.
“After many deep conversations, Cole and I discovered our upbringings were very similar,” Mutaz said. “We were both very connected in our faiths.”
Cole added, “Mutaz opened my eyes to a new culture and way of life that I would have never experienced if it had not been for Bridges.”
The two balanced each other out, each one helping the other the way only a best friend could.
“I tend to lean on Mutaz in a much different way than he leans on me,” Cole said. “Mutaz is the most even-minded of us both. Whenever I am anxious or stressed out about something I can always count on Mutaz to help me think through things rationally. Mutaz always has a way of putting things into perspective for me.”
In turn, Mutaz said he “relied on Cole to be the more outspoken friend. If I ever had a problem I could always trust Cole to lead me in the right direction and he often spoke up for me when I didn't dare to speak up for myself. Cole taught me to take charge and to speak up for myself when I need to.”
Years after their time as high schoolers in Bridges, the two came back to campus to serve as summer counselors. They have been there for each other for major life events, including college graduations and first jobs. And later this year, Mutaz will support Cole as a groomsman in his wedding.
Looking back at their origins in Bridges, the two laugh and share memories. In Cole’s current role with Bridges, he helps select each new class and plans programs to bring seemingly very different people together as they discover who might be their future groomsmen or bridesmaids.
After reminiscing with Mutaz, Cole offers this advice for future students:
“Mutaz and I both agree that the key to having a lasting friendship in Bridges is to have an open mind. You never know who you will meet. It is important for current and new students to understand that in Bridges you are never alone. There is always at least one person you can connect with.
“Your Bridges experience is what you make of it. If you stay to yourself the entire time, you are possibly missing out on making lifelong friends. Mutaz and I are a testament to what Bridges can do for different people. Both of us have achieved things in our lives that we never imagined were possible. We both give credit to Bridges for shaping us into the people that we are today and creating a lifelong friendship.”