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
What big lessons for kids to learn, but I think there's a lot for kids in this - valuing friendships for what they are, doing their part in keeping up with the people who are important, and learning to let go of the ones who are temporary. It takes many people well into adulthood to understand these things. Lovely post.ReplyDelete
Thanks for such a lovely compliment Cristin. I think you are very right that these lessons are valuable and I am pleased my children are learning them now and not when they leave university!Delete
Wonderfully written!! Reading this did give me that sinking feeling in my stomach though. Arthur is almost three and starting to interact more and more with other children. I know his life will be greatly affected by coming and going if friends and I hope I will be able to help him understand this as much as possible! You sound like you have done a fantastic job with this!ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing this with #myexpatfamily always lovely to have you join in :)
Gosh it is hard to believe he is three already, he was such a tiny tot when I got to 'know' you! He will be absolutely fine :)Delete
Really interested to read this. We are facing a situation now where several of my daughters friends are the ones leaving this year AND we are changing her school after the summer - though not moving posting ourselves. Its the first time she will be losing physical contact with a friendship of some substantive depth, I'm trying to best prepare her (and me!) for this eventuality but I guess it will happen many times over the years. Do you have suggestions on best ways for young friends to keep in touch (she's only 6 and not a confident reader/writer yet)?ReplyDelete
That is a tough double whammy for your daughter. I think it is very easy to concentrate on the impact of the end of a posting on the children that leave while ignoring the loss to the children who stay behind. It is a tough adapatation that they have to make. Re keeping in touch I try to show ours photos of their friends that parents' post on facebook and I will happily act as an amanuensis if needed. Master EE at 9 is now more computer savvy and uses my email account to write to people, we also send a lot of online cards, our favourite are Jacquie Lawson just because they are so very very beautiful.Delete
I find whats app is also a good way to keep in touch if the other family have it as well. Mind you I have also found that friendships this young do tend to drift apart naturally over time because they lose the common ground.
I have seen something called 'ToyMail' or similar on my facebook feed in recent weeks. This is a toy that can receive messages from set people (Grandparents, cousins etc) over WIFI and I was going to look into that as a way for mine to keep contact with friends in a controllable way as they are too young for a 'phone.
We have struggled through this ourselves. My daughters were slow to form friendships due to the overwhelming inability to move past the loss of the friendships they had left behind. Skype and FaceTime helped ease the family connections they were missing, but they were lacking in peer relationships for a while. Fortunately we landed in an expat school (we are Americans, but our children attend a German school... in Ireland) and the mixtures of third culture children really eased their transition. Due to the fact most parents at the school understand the struggle, they are very inclusive of all children. Our visa restrictions (student visa) forced us to send our daughters to private primary school, but in the end, it was a blessing in disguise. We were very fortunate we had that option.ReplyDelete
It can be really tough, particularly on serial expats. Most children are gregarious by nature and really suffer from a lack of peer support. I think you are right that technology is more helpful for family connections, probably because the adult can drive the contact in the early days. It is probably more beneficial to teenage friendships! So pleased that you found a good school for your family.Delete
This is a really tough situation but I suppose they are useful lessons to learn about friendship. I remember writing letters when I was a child to friends who moved away and then when we moved away, but at least we were still in the same country so occasional visits were easier. These days it's apparently easier to stay in touch through social media, but it usually seems to be a more superficial form of staying in contact. #MyExpatFamilyReplyDelete
I used to be a prolific letter writer but it was so easy to lose addresses/forget to pass on new addresses. I have managed to get back in touch with many old friends through Facebook and other media, it has been brilliant. I do have hierachys of social friends though, some are just click/like friends. You are right that they are very superficial contacts that I would have left behind and not heard from again in the past. With others I exchange lengthy and regular emails.Delete