There are a lot of lessons in store for those of us who pack our bags and move to live in a foreign country. In this post I’ll be talking about what living abroad teaches us about friendships.
Because once we’ve moved away, it’s not only about making new friends abroad. In the process we also learn to understand what kind of friendships fulfil us, alongside witnessing (sometimes painful) changes in the friendships that we already have in our lives.
Continue reading to find out about the things that life abroad has taught me about friendships.
1. LOSING FRIENDS AFTER MOVING ABROAD IS INEVITABLE
The hardest lesson that concerns friendships, and one that many of us are not prepared for, is that a number of people will simply drop out of our lives when we move abroad.
There you are in your new home and trying to get settled in a new country. You still reach out to your friends back home or in your previous expat destination – because who else are you going to talk to, right?
But more and more you come to realize that they’re actually barely listening, barely interested, barely invested in seeing you do well.
Soon enough, the interactions become superficial, or the other person doesn’t even make an effort to maintain the friendship at all. That person may even be you as you slowly give up on something that doesn’t seem to work anymore.
There’s a number of reasons why some friendships fade into oblivion.
It could be that your friendship was circumstantial (you went to the same school, worked at the same company etc.) and without that one thing in common, there isn’t much to hold on to.
It could be that the person just can’t understand your life choices, even if they’d like to be supportive. But because they can’t relate, they also don’t know how to continue to be your friend. Rather than address this with you, they choose to fade out of your life instead.
Or it could be that your choice to live in a foreign country triggered negative emotions in your friend. Your bravery to take off may have brought up feelings of jealousy or even a sense of betrayal. For many people, these are difficult feelings to work through, unless they have the tools to deal with them constructively. As a result, it’s your friendship that ends up getting axed.
Living abroad teaches you that not everyone is meant to stay in your life when you choose to follow your own path.
Depending on the nature and length of your friendship, this realization can of course be incredibly painful. So make sure you take the time to be grateful and grieve for this friendship.
2. LIVING ABROAD TEACHES YOU TO RECOGNIZE ‘YOUR PEOPLE‘
Unless you intentionally move somewhere to be completely on your own, chances are that you’re going to be putting a lot of energy into making friends and ‘finding your people’ in a new country.
Finding your people is not always going to be easy nor even straightforward.
You may be looking in all the places that you’re used to – joining the same clubs, going to the same social events. But somehow you just don’t click with others in the way that you thought you would.
You may actually push yourself out of your comfort zone and try out all sorts of new activities and ways of meeting people, but you just don’t seem to make the kind of connection you’re looking for.
Or your options in the area that you live in are so limited to begin with that you have to choose between spending time with people that you wouldn’t normally want to hang out with or being on your own most of the time.
When your efforts don’t lead to the kind of friendships that you’re looking for, you start to realize what it is that you value in a friendship. As a result, you also learn to recognize those valuable connections faster.
Meanwhile, however, you also begin to value your long-distance friendships all the more. Which leads me to my next point.
3. YOU LEARN HOW TO CHERISH AND KEEP A LONG-DISTANCE FRIENDSHIP
I’ll be honest – I’ve resisted accepting the fact that after several years abroad, many of my most important friendships will always be long-distance.
For many years after moving abroad I had this idea that friendships, true friendships, only count when they are face-to-face. Everything else is destined to fail sooner or later.
Well, several years later, those same friendships that I thought would fall apart are still there.
You see, I’ve learned that it’s not about how long you’ve been friends. It’s also not just about shared experiences and whether you can spend time together in person.
It’s all about whether the friendship is built on a true connection that makes it meaningful for both people to keep investing in the friendship, even if from a distance.
And so while I may not have the luxury of making plans to go out for brunch with my most favorite people in the world whenever I feel like it, I know that my long-distance friends have my back no matter what. I know that because they’ve proven it to me time and again.
When you realize that your long-distance friendships are just as, if not more, supportive than more circumstantial friendships, that’s when you learn how to cherish and maintain those long-distance friendships in every way possible.
Although these friendships may not look like a “normal” friendship and give you any opportunities to go out and explore where you live, it’s the quality of the long-distance friendships that really comes to count at the end of the day.
What have you learned about friendships since moving abroad? Let me know in the comments below.
Katherine is a retired world traveller and former serial expat. Based on her professional work, PhD research and personal experience, she now helps expats, travellers and location independents decide whether to stay or go, where to should settle down or whether it’s time to move back home.