4 June 2013

Expat Friendships. Here today - still here tomorrow?

Some friends of ours are leaving Astana at the end of this week and it started me thinking about the transience of expat life and the nature of the friendships we make.

We come to a posting full of questions and trepidation.  Will we be able to settle in the new posting?  Will there be a school for the children?  Social clubs for non working family members? Comfortable homes?  Easy access to groceries and countless other little worries.  One of the biggest concerns most expatriates have is whether they will be able to find a supportive friendship circle. 

Most people manage to settle in very quickly and meet friends both local and expatriate.  Of course such friendships are destined to be fairly transient – locals will stay behind when you move to the next posting and other expatriates will be on a different moving schedule to you.  When I was a child we moved around very regularly and friendships would wax and wane depending on where we were.  Once people left our host country we could write but typically we would find the friendship suspended  on an amicable basis – left to be picked up again from where we left off when our  paths managed to cross again.  We moved within a single company so this happened on a reasonably regular basis and it was always a pleasure to catch up.  Over the years I have babysat for the children of my old babysitters and been introduced to my parents’ best man.

In the old days there was always the danger of letters getting lost in the post or forgetting a new address so when friends moved on to a new posting there was always a feeling of loss.  This is not unreasonable because it is, of course, a bereavement of sorts.  Friends that you have built your life around depart and leave a void.  Luckily unlike a real bereavement you can fill it with new friends and, with the convenience of social media and skype, still keep in touch.

The reality is that many of the friendships formed through the lens of expat life are based on the over-riding shared experiences of living and working in your host country.  Once those experiences are no longer shared don’t be surprised if the friendship slackens a little and you become friendly acquaintances reduced to the odd ‘like’ on Facebook.  That does not mean that the friendships are not important and valuable while you are on posting.  Most people find that the ability to talk through the experiences of expat life with people who understand the context plays a vital part in enjoying the time abroad.  It is important to cultivate a large circle of friends and welcome new arrivals so that when people leave the support network remains intact.
Every so often, of course, you meet someone who becomes a genuinely good friend and no amount of distance will dull that.  Some years ago many family friends who had settled in Europe came to support us on the sad day when we buried my mother.  The same friends came to help celebrate my father’s second wedding.   

So with all this in mind we will say goodbye to our friends.  We will keep in touch and hopefully catch up again in the future.  In the meantime we will also enjoy a get together with some people who arrived just a month or so ago.  

Click the picture for more posts on the challenges of expat life.

Ersatz Expat


  1. Nellie and I will always love you :)

    and 'like you' on Facebook!

    1. Nellie's exploits on facebook brighten our days!