Managing your expectations about relationships as an expat
The perception of an expat’s life is that of being on an endless vacation with a job that you enjoy and lots of perks. Whether you are just starting your expat journey or continuing for many more years, there are challenges you will face along the way. No one tells you about the challenges of making and keeping connections until after you start experiencing them.
Making Friends Comes with Time
We have all seen the movies or heard the stories of an expat with lots of friends. They enjoy socializing with other expats as well as locals. Invites to events, activities, and getaways are the perfect scenarios after you are connected to a new community in your host country. Well, the reality of making new friends quickly and easily when you move abroad is far more challenging. Remember when you were a new kid in a new school or a new city? Yes, the same applies to an expat move. You have to navigate the culture, language, gender boundaries, socioeconomic privilege, class, or race. And these experiences don’t happen overnight.
While living on the island of Dominica, my neighbor and I were regular 5 am Saturday morning buddies to the local market for our weekly produce. In contrast, in Singapore, I lived in the same condo for almost four years and did not know any of the other three neighbors on the floor. In fact, I met one neighbor the day the movers were packing my belongings. Due to their personal preference or schedule, we did not know one another. Nothing is wrong with that, but understand it can happen.
Yes, eventually you will make a few friends. You may find them at a meet-up, at work, in a bar, at the gym, or in a hobby group. It may not be easy, and you may not have many. Sometimes, those you meet will have their own self-interest for making your acquaintance while others are being truly genuine about having a community.
Missing Loved Ones is Normal
You will miss your family and close friends immensely. The random call for no good reason at 6 am Sunday morning or surprise drop by your place that once annoyed, are now a thing you wish you had. You see, when you are abroad with only one trip planned for home each year, it can make you miss folks. Not to mention, you will also miss lots of family and friends’ events such as birthdays, engagements, weddings, reunions, and even their teasing and their nagging.
There are also sad occasions that you miss too, and the mutual bonding that occurs because of grief when you lose a loved one. Let's face it; you cannot hop on a plane for every funeral or critical illness. Missing important events while overseas can trigger a variety of emotional feelings. However, it is one of the unintended sacrifices you had chosen when you decided to be an expat. So, on those trips home, appreciate the time you spend with your family and friends. It is a big deal when you are home, as everyone you see is creating and building memories that will be treasured.
Having been an expat for nine (9) years, these are a few of my personal experiences. But do not be mistaken; even with all the challenges of moving and settling abroad, my time has been worth every struggle or obstacle I faced. As a result, I have grown as a human being and built resilience.
Becoming an expat (living and working abroad) is a life-changing experience. It is one that I would not trade. If you have a hope or dream of living abroad, don't let your fears overwhelm you, it can be a captivating life journey with many cherished memories.
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—Karla A. Fraser, Building and Keeping Relationships While Living Overseas, Roseapple Global, LLC