It is often said that expat friendships are fast and furious, they are intense in post but once one or other of you moves away the friendship starts to wane. I keep in contact with some friends over Facebook and comment on their photos but we both know that we are only in touch because it is convenient these days. We won’t go out of our way to meet up again (though we would happily share a coffee if we ran into each other). The bond we have was limited to a certain place and time. Other expat friends have become real friends – I write to a number of people quite regularly, long emails about life, the universe and everything and we go out of our way to meet up. Just before Christmas I took a 200 mile diversion on my drive from my parents’ house to my in laws to stay a night with a couple we knew in Astana. It was wonderful to catch up. Similarly a few years ago Mr EE and I found ourselves in Hong Kong at rather short notice and a friend dropped all her plans to meet us for lunch. That same year we organised our summer holiday to Turkey instead of Slovenia to fit in with the wedding of a friend of mine from my days in Turkey.
The differences in these relationships are obvious to me now but it took me some time to realise that not all friendships are created equal. Further the expat experience can be very isolating for children. When I was a child I was at boarding school so I only saw my ‘friends’ in posting for a few months a year. Moving schedules meant that someone you were close to one holiday might not be there the next but their parents might not have known about the move in the previous holiday so we would not have been able to say goodbye and in the absence of Facebook we lost touch. It was this experience which taught me to evaluate the people I should become close to (and get their school address for letters) and which ones to be friendly with but not reliant on. In some postings I was the only person of my own age which was lonely but had the positive effect that I become incredibly close to my younger sister and our parents. That said I made sure that I had human contact beyond my family, as I grew older I would go into my father’s office for work experience with his legal team. This allowed me to meet a whole range of people, either young colleagues on a first post out of university or the children of older local colleagues. I am still in touch with my mentor from Turkey and the daughter of another colleague.
|Expat Children Can Be More Reliant On Family|
For Friendship Than Other Children
My experiences made me worry for our own children. They go to school in posting as opposed to going to boarding school so they do have contact with people their own age every day. Nevertheless I worried about how we would explain the potentially transient nature of expat friendships to the children so that they would not be too hurt. It is not helped by the fact that teachers often push everyone to be ‘friends’. There seems to be no distinction made between friendly acquaintances and lifelong friendships (or BFFs as I am told they are called these days).
|But A Social Life Is Still Important|
The people they were close to in Kazakhstan are now scattered to the four corners of the globe, to the US, Ghana, UK, Russia and of course many of them are still in Kazakhstan. They see their photos on my Facebook and comment on them occasionally and they hope to meet up again in the future but they are beginning to realise that they have grown apart. They were far more wary about making friends in Malaysia as a result. Our fast turnover of our time there meant 2 schools in 18 months making it very difficult for them to settle down as their classmates knew they would be moving on in short order and were also reluctant to get close. This made the children very nervous in the run up to the move to Jeddah. They were concerned that they would not have anyone to play with and it was a real relief for them when some of the neighbouring children knocked on the door the day after we arrived and invited them to the playground. The children in their classes have been very open and welcoming and they have had arrangements for playdates off compound already. As Master and Miss EE grow older they are starting to understand the difference between an acquaintance or short term friend and a lifelong one but are also seasoned enough to understand that sometimes a ‘now’ friend can be just the ticket.
|It Is Good For Them To Learn How To Make Friends And|
How To Move On From Those Friendships At The End Of A Posting
We hope that our example, making a real effort with the people who matter most, helps them to realise that some friendships are nothing more than acquaintances, some are short and sweet and of the moment, to be enjoyed but not savoured while others will be for life and that all of these have their place. Of course there is no telling at the start which friendships will be for life so we will facilitate them in maintaining contact with anyone they want to.
Have your children had to learn to deal with intense but transient friendships in your postings? How have you helped them adjust?
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Posted as part of Seychelles' Mama's Monthly Blog Link