Without friends, most of us would probably go insane. Friends are everything — they’re the voices of reason who always know when to speak up, the ones who tell you the truth about how you look in that dress, the only people in the world who would do anything for you and always have your back, the ones who laugh at your jokes and the rocks you turn to when no one else seems to understand. But time brings with it inevitable changes. And what about friendship when you move abroad? If you add moving abroad to the mix, things can even become more complicated than you ever anticipated in the friends department. It’s not easy to make friends abroad.
On friendship when you move abroad
Happy Monday! I try to keep my blog as real as possible because I’d be doing a disservice to my readers if I only showed a one-sided view of life abroad and looked at everything through rose-colored glasses. Many things are rosy here, but as with life anywhere, there are downsides to making a major life change. So that said, read on…
Friendship is a recurring theme in my writing and something I have trouble with now that I’ve left the comforts of home for a life in France. I try not to look back but can’t help but compare my life now to what it was back in the U.S when it comes to friends.
Even if I hadn’t moved abroad, we go through transitions and friends come and go maybe because of domestic moves, job changes and other life changes that can get in the way. In-person friends soon become FaceTime-only friends and work friends fade into the background once you change jobs.
The theme of change is one we all can identify with.
I wouldn’t consider myself a social butterfly but I’m reasonably outgoing and enjoy the company of others. I’ve always had a small circle of friends over the years that I could count on and we’d have fun together. I’m a fiercely loyal friend and want you to put in as much effort as I am.
But after college, people move away, get busy with work and their relationships, have babies, seem to drop off the face of the earth, and it’s only natural for friendships to change over time.
I totally get that it’s normal but that doesn’t make it any easier.
Another change that some of us experience is the change that comes with expat life. Friendship when you move abroad is… different. Perhaps a less sensitive person would just shrug and move on. But that’s not me. Never has been. How do you make friends abroad anyway?
When you become an expat (or even a move closer to home), you’ll encounter all kinds of changes when it comes to friends.
Things that can happen to friendship when you move abroad:
Some people from back home will be genuinely excited for you and your big life change — and show they care.
They’ll be eager to hear all the details and happy for the direction your life has taken. They’ll go out of their way to send you cards and little care packages and to pick up the phone when you call. These are the people who will brighten your day without them even realizing it. The simple act of them taking 10 minutes to send a card or email means the world to you and the little things they do (even just checking in via that quick email) remind you of why you even became friends with them in the first place. Even just one friend like this is amazing to have. It’s so important to reciprocate and do your part too. Show them what they mean to you because trust me, these friends are RARE.
Other friends will disappear.
Some people will really surprise you — in a bad way — and view you as “out of sight, out of mind.” This is maybe the hardest thing to come to terms with about friendship when you move abroad. It’s a fact of life that people drift apart over time when their lives go in different directions. But when people don’t stay in touch despite your best efforts and the friendship becomes one sided, it’s especially hard to take.
This is even more true when the people in question are good friends who make zero effort to keep in touch aside from a random Facebook like or one-line email every now and again. It can be a “slow fade” and you won’t even realize at first that someone is phasing you out. Sure, I’m not physically there to do anything in person, but I’m still alive and value friendships from back home. Guess not everyone’s priorities are the same.
These friendships will change out of seemingly nowhere and people you once counted on will leave you feeling gutted to the core. Like you just don’t matter anymore and you don’t have any idea what happened to the person you once knew. These friendships are the hardest to cope with. Like when you find out a good friend had a baby… on Facebook. And she didn’t even take 2 minutes to drop you a one-line email to tell you she was pregnant. Ouch.
Some friends want to know when you’re moving back home.
These people assume expat life is temporary and they want you back so you can do things together. They mean well and are genuinely hopeful for your return. It’s just that they miss you. But they’d value your friendship more if you were physically there. Sometimes they just don’t know what to ask you.
You’ll have secretly envious friends.
These “friends” will be subtly rude. They’ll say things like “Must be nice” as in “Must be nice to just pick up and move to dreamy France” as if expat life doesn’t come with its fair share of struggles. Why yes, it is nice to make a life change for yourself that took a lot of work and sacrifice. It is nice to finally be where you want to be with the person you want to be with. I’m a big fan of making goals for yourself and then accomplishing them. But “must be nice” just comes across as stupid and somehow insinuates that I chose the easy road. What people don’t get is that if something is important enough, you should make it happen — you’ll be happier! Moving to France is great a lot of the time but it’s not paradise. France as a tourist while on vacation is NOT the same as living here, not by a long shot.
You’ll make friends abroad via email.
If you have a blog, random strangers and other expats will write to say hi, to ask for advice (and often never write back to say thanks after you’ve taken the time to help them out) and to let you know you’re not alone. These email friendships mean a lot and I’m grateful for all of my blog friends. If you’re new here (or are a lurker that never comments), write me and say hi! 😉 It means more than you know!
Making friends in a new country requires a LOT of work and even then, you still might not make any friends. Putting yourself out there is exhausting and always having to be “on,” especially in your second language, can fatigue even the most energetic person. Then if you do meet someone, it might feel like they don’t get the real you or that you can’t be yourself 100%. It’s just not the same as friends from back home.
So what does all this mean?
It means that maybe we should all be a little bit more mindful of friendships from the past, in the present and in the future. This applies to all friends and not just about one’s quest to make friends abroad.
Friendship is a two-way street, but I think we can all be better friends and that looks different for each of us. Maybe that means taking 10 minutes to write that email you’ve been meaning to write to a friend you’ve lost touch with. Would it really ruin your day to do that? Maybe it means apologizing to someone who deserves your apology. Maybe it means giving someone a second (or third) chance. Or being the bigger person and just letting that grudge go. Or maybe it means letting go of the past and just being at peace with where you are in the present.
If you’ve lost touch with someone because they’ve moved abroad (or whatever reason), maybe you can take a minute out of your day to check in. To say hi. To catch up. To let them know they still matter. Because I guarantee you that they do think of you, and your reaching out might just make a major difference in their life.
I challenge you to take a few minutes to focus on being a better friend. Those abroad and those at “home.”