Expat life: maintaining friendships at home!
Whilst you may be excited about your move abroad, of starting afresh, meeting new people, engaging in a foreign culture, learning a new language and having lots of adventures, it’s not uncommon for friends (and family) back home to feel abandoned when you announce that you’re moving to another country.
In my experience, it’s important to have an open chat with them about their feelings surrounding this life changing event. Depending on their attachment style, your move might instigate painful emotions in them and though you aren’t responsible for these, it’s key that you reassure your friends that you may be gone for some time, but your friendship can still continue – though in a different form.
In my mind, there is no doubt that it is up to the leaving party to put in the greatest effort to maintain friendships. Your friends haven’t chosen for your relationship to change character, and whereas you may be excited for the future in your new country, they may be grieving the loss of you going, leaving behind a you-sized hole.
Reassuring them of your commitment to your friendship is key as is keeping in mind, that it’s unrealistic to expect them to make a huge effort. After a while, they will have accommodated to you no longer being around and their lives will go on – just as yours will. So, if you have friends whom you would like to keep in your life, you will have to work for it and accept that they will invite new people into their lives whom you don’t know and who will to some degree take over your role.
Adding to this, you will also have to accept that losing friends probably is inevitable. As we know, not all people are meant to stay in our lives forever, and if the connection was circumstantial rather than deep and meaningful, it’s only natural that time apart will highlight this. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s also possible that people on the periphery of your circle of friends may turn into closer connections.
How do you maintain and nurture friendships at home whilst living abroad?
Making proper time to spend with friends when visiting your home country can be beneficial. Though it may seem trivial to you to listen to the same old stories from their same old lives when you are bursting with excitement to tell your friends about your new adventures, it’s important to keep in mind that to them, their seemingly trivial whereabouts matter. Be respectful of their stories, listen to and pay them the same attention and curiosity as you would, had you still been living at home. Also, be mindful that the stability, comfort and safety that your friends and their stable lives offer you may have contributed to you having had the courage to move abroad in the first place.
It can be hugely rewarding to invite your friends to come stay with you in your new home. Showing them your new surroundings; not just the tourist sights, but your home and everyday life will enhance their understanding of your new life. Not only will it deepen the bond between you, it will make moving back home and re-entering your circle of friends easier as they have played an active part in your time abroad. This will also lessen your grief for the loss of your expat time when back in the pond again. In my experience, it's priceless to have friends who have shared some of your expat adventure.
Depending on finances, it can also be rewarding to meet somewhere in the middle for a shared new adventure.
Just as your friends have to accept you not being around, you also need to accept that you might no longer be their first port of call to share little or bigger things with. Simply because you aren’t around any longer. This can be hard, but knowing that it’s not because of your person, but your chosen life circumstances can make acceptance easier for you. Just as your friends have lost something precious with you moving abroad, so might you.
Be mindful of how you talk about your new friends; it can be tough to learn that your bestie has found a new bestie. You also want to be careful with painting a picture perfect narrative around your new life; it can push people away if they feel that what you have in your new life is way better than what's "on offer" back home.
The internet and various social media no doubt make keeping in touch easier for all. You can make a postcard like blog to tell people about your experiences, you can create groups on social media where you post photos and videos etc., and you can have video chats. The opportunities are endless.
Find ways to keep sharing experiences to deepen the bond between you and your friends. If you have a yoga buddy, you can set up a weekly online session. You can choose to read a book with a friend of a circle of friends and set up an online session to discuss the book. You can play online games like Wordfeud. In reality, it’s never been easier to keep in touch; and I am sure most of you have learned new ways to connect with people during the corona crisis.
Lastly, work on accepting that some people will disappear from your life. When you live abroad, knowingly or not, you undergo a huge personal development. It may be difficult for your friends at home to keep up just as well as it may be hard for you to remain in relationship with people who are more settled in their lives.
First published Aug 2020; updated Jan 2023