Expat Friendships

Friendships/relationships and how I kind of become worse at both as I get older, have been on my mind lately. I blame having children the different seasons of life, for friendships that have suffered. I was thinking the other day about all the types of friendships I’ve had in life.  In the 4th grade, I started a new school. From that age, I have a handful of friends that I still keep in touch with, mostly via the odd Facebook comment or like. One friend that I have known since then played a huge role in helping me find my birth family. The way that happened still kind of blows my mind and reminds me that God puts people in our lives for a reason. Then there’s high school friends. I feel like those friends had such a huge impact in my life at the time. They were everything.  And then we turn around and start a new chapter (college for me) and new people sweep in and mix with the old and every friendship is so intense, and every emotion we experience so raw. I would say that this is the time period that the most relationships stuck with me from. My roommates. My teammates. Often times we fought felt more like sisters. The bonds that were built then were so strong and I’m thankful for the girls that are still a part of my life. Then I got married and was so fortunate to find incredible friends in my sisters-in-law. All of this time invested. All of these relationships built. (Getting increasingly excited to see you all this summer!) It was a lot of energy put in by me and I can see that more now after understanding the depth of my introversion and my need for a few solid and loyal friends. And then we moved overseas and the rug was pulled out from under me. I had to start completely anew. If you have read my About Me, then hopefully this sheds a little light on my bad attitude after first arriving in Taiwan.

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Is this photo from this lifetime? Another expat friend for life that, thankfully, I’ll be seeing this summer.

 

When I finally gave up the fight, and let friends in, because obviously I needed them, it was such a gift to me. When I started to slowly emerge from my black cloud of culture shock/homesickness and look around me, I couldn’t believe what I saw. And what I could begin to appreciate. Life so different than anything I’d ever known. And as I have learned over the years, just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. I remember being young and free, driving my scooter or sitting on the back of my husband’s motorcycle, just taking it all in. And countless times I wished I could put video cameras in my eyes to show my loved ones back home all the crazy and different things I was seeing. I couldn’t. But I could talk about it with my friends here. And we could laugh about some things and be surprised by others. We experienced those things together. We were in it together. Plus we mostly came from very similar backgrounds/cultures. Even if they didn’t know my maiden name yet or the importance of perogies in my life, they still understood a huge part of me. Just like any relationship, expat friendships grow stronger with shared experiences and time together. And quite often living overseas, first moments shared together can be forced and awkward ones. Awkward situations, in my experience, tend to make or break a friendship pretty early on.

Double Edged Sword

With the good, comes the bad. I saw this on Twitter a few weeks ago and I was just like, “YES!”.  I have tried to put this into my own words for so long, but of course could never do it in such an articulate way.  The best I could do was, “the more people you love all over the world, the more you miss at any given time.”

 

Exactly!

A photo posted by Katrina Jakola (@taipeikat) on


A couple of months ago, a sweet friend left Taiwan. I had met her on day one of our arrival in Kaohsiung in 2002 and I have cherished her friendship ever since.


I pretty much wept the whole ride home after saying good-bye. (Thankfully not via public transport) I didn’t expect that. I didn’t see it coming at all. I think I was denying myself from even thinking about her really being gone. It didn’t hit me until she wistfully and in a rush (because my van was blocking traffic on the small lane in front of her apartment) said, “OK…see you later! I’ll see you again. I will!” Cue full emotions hitting me smack in the face while simultaneously turning the waterworks on! The strange thing is, I can say good-bye to family now, with dry eyes. (Unless my kids are losing it…that kills me) It’s most likely because I know, Lord willing, I’ll see them again. But when friends (a.k.a. family) leave Taiwan, and leave me behind…I’m hopeful, but not truly sure that I’ll ever see them again.

The Many Hats of Expat Friendships

A few days ago, when I got the phone call from my husband that our 6-year-old daughter had split her lip open at school and most likely needed stitches, I didn’t panic. Probably because he assured me that she was calm and OK, for the time being. And he sounded calm. Also, we’ve done this a time or two before. But mostly because, without even having to think about it, I texted a friend. She was, at the time, waiting to grab tea with me before going to pick up the kids at school. I asked her if she could help out. Of course! Of course she’d take my little one to school to play. Of course she’d watch her as long as I needed. It was basically a “don’t worry, I’ve got this…you go take care of it” response. It was the kind of reaction that you would expect from an auntie or grandma. It was exactly what I needed in that moment. (My daughter was just fine, by the way. The Dr was able to use glue instead of stitches and she is healing nicely.) And if it hadn’t been her, I can think of a fairly lengthy list of other friends that would have reacted in exactly the same way. What I learned way back in 2002 and understand even better now, is that expat friends are a special breed. Many voids are filled in my life by friends that live in this different place with me. They are the ones that are here for the everyday moments. When our child loses a tooth. Or gets a black eye. Or isn’t going to bed well. Or they just know our favourite tea and what time we like to leave for Costco. (Mostly 10 – 15 mins after the scheduled time, unless otherwise specified.) They learn my day-to-day stuff and I learn theirs. We pass the kids clothes around in cycles as they grow and help each other figure out where they can find some special, hard to locate item that day. We trade off watching each other’s little ones, for a much needed break. We carpool on grocery trips and lend and borrow food items until we can make the next trip. We understand and empathize over the heartbreak when something is happening back home that that we can’t be there for. We don’t have the support of family close by. So, instead, we help each other out when we can. And we understand the need for it. I have a friend who refers to expat friends as “her people”. People who just get it. I like that. We all understand this crazy, different life that we live together and the real desire we feel to do so.

Yes, we’re a transient group. And yes, the good-byes make us (and our children) a little tougher on the exterior sometimes. The easiest thing to do is retreat and distance yourself when you or someone else is leaving. But ultimately our lives are enriched through these relationships that we never saw coming. And I really, truly appreciate every last one of you.

(After writing this, I’m definitely feeling the need to write a post about the ways that some of my local friends have impacted my life and brightened my day-to-day!)

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