Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Expat Friendships

One of the blogs I read every now and then is EXPAT BOSTONIANS, Crystal and her husband (Ravi) have one daughter and another due in November. She is a brilliant blogger and has far better writing skills than I could ever possess. 

One of her most recent and very interesting posts - was: 

and I repost it here for your enjoyment and interest:

One of the blogs I’ve recently found and become a big fan of is “Mummy in Provence.” (Side note–she does a series called The Global Difference in Baby Making, featuring guest posts from expats around the world…FASCINATING reading if you’re at all interested in the topic).  This past Sunday, she did a “stream of consciousness” post questioning whether expats are fickle friends or not.  It’s been several days since I read (and commented) on the post, but it’s stayed on my mind.

Are expats fickle friends?

My gut reaction was that to some extent, yes we are.  We disappear for travel, sometimes for a month or more at a time.  We know that our friends could leave at the drop of a hat.  The basis for friendship is, I think, far more liberal away from home than it might be in our home country. And, at the end of the day, my longest friendship in Singapore is about 18 months old, whereas most of my friendships in Boston are between 6/7 and 15 years old (and go back before marriage, kids, etc).

With social media, haven’t made as much effort to have a large social circle, the way I might have 10 or 15 years ago.  I’m pretty on top of many of my friend’s lives, thanks to facebook, twitter and skype.  Thanks to that and this blog, they’re keeping up with me.  When I was in France in 2000, few if any friends had home access to email, and I made far more effort to get out and make local friends than I necessarily have here.


Then again, I don’t know that that was entirely fair.  Thanks to expat life and expat contacts, I’ve made friends that span several continents.  Today I had a friend generously let me place an order in her home country that she’s willing to take the time to ship on to me from her house to save me money (compared with direct international shipping).  I wouldn’t say that’s superficial…that’s an unnecessary and very sweet gesture.

The other thing I wasn’t thinking about is that expat friends are the only people who can really relate to the expat experience.  Unless you’ve actually lived abroad and gone through the culture shock of being an expat, the frustrations, the excitement, the adaptation…all of that, it’s difficult to fully relate.  

Our expat friends serve a vital purpose.

It is quite an issue here for most expats ..... some are a 'little afraid' of forming close relationships because they expect to lose that friendship within a matter of a couple of years.  Yet why do we always look to the expat community for our friendships? There can be very lasting and strong friendships within the local community just as much!

Being part of a purely international community may distort views towards the host country, slow down integration into the local culture and lead to the development of an ‘us versus them’ mindset.

Actively trying to make friends with local people in the host country is worthwhile. On the one hand you may have to overcome potential barriers to getting to know locals, such as foreign language, unfamiliar customs, locals’ settled lifestyles and their already existing social networks. On the other hand, these investments may allow you to be better integrated into the new culture and get the most out of your stay in a different country.

and we should extend that circle of friends to include other generations, do not discard what could potentially be a very joyous and meaningful relationship with another person, no matter what their age!

We - as expats - need communication, we need to be in touch with family and friends no matter where we are or where they are, we need our communication tools too ... so don't make comments about the "cell phone glued to our ear', or "why are we on Facebook 24/7", we have left the comfort of our homeland, our friends and where we feel comfortable with things we know about. We need support and understanding from our friends 'back in our homeland' and we need support from our Expat friends too. 

We are in this boat together, regardless of race, family, country of birth or age.

A friend recently made this comment:

Through the years of living in other countries, I’ve found my hometown friends and family often can’t connect with my life. They are just not interested. But expat ones certainly relate and are always interested!

My hometown friends and family are forever saying "they are too busy to talk to me on skype" or if questioned about lack of emails "do you think we have the time to sit around (or have our nails done) all day like you do?" 

These are hurtful, and harmful, comments to hear in any ones language!
As we are aware, we need to work at any relationship. Marriage, family, friends .... these are all valuable people in our daily lives ..... and expat friends are in that category too.

I often read a blog named Lioness in Japan, a blog written by a Singaporean, 
now living in Japan. But it is well worth reading her blog posting titled:

You may like to read the blog post I did in October 2009, titled:

... and not so long ago I read the following in a blog. It is well worth reading and perhaps taking note of as a few of our friends leave for 'greener pastures' or even returning 'home'.
Making Expat Friendships Last
While any friendship near or far has potential to break, expat friendships may need careful adjustments once you return home.

The following advice has helped me extend relationships beyond my time abroad. 

1. See each other and create new memories together. One friend and I meet every year for a weekend or longer trip somewhere in the world. 

2. Consistently keep in touch. Rather than just Facebook or email, phone calls go a long way in helping you feel closer. 

3. Accept your friend’s life changes such as marriage, baby, or even another abroad experience. 

4. Accept aspects of your friend’s personality you may never have witnessed before in a foreign setting.

5. Accept that your friend has other familial and friendship obligations at home. 

6. Bond over the past, but focus on moving the friendship forward.
 It is rough beginning a life in a new land, rough on friendships. 
Extremely difficult leaving your closest friends behind, 
and even more difficult making new ones.

but you can do it!

go call a friend now and arrange that coffee date.

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