There are two types of expat in my opinion – the static expat and the transient expat. I’m a static expat in that I have lived more or less in the same place for years. Transient expats are the ones who move on every three or four years, often bumping into people they met half way across the globe, a decade earlier.
My blogging buddy Potty Mummy (another static) recently lamented one not-so-great aspect of expat living that many of us struggle with – saying goodbye to friends who are leaving. She mused “It’s all very well being thrown together with a group of amusing, warm, outgoing, outward-looking individuals, many of whom are similarly at sea in this world of serial expat-ness and likewise wondering if they will ever manage to make it back into the work-place of their home town when they eventually get there, but it’s another thing entirely when they start to up and leave in large numbers.”I can’t count the number of British friends I’ve made in the 20 years I’ve been here, but I can count on one hand those who are still around. The reality of friends who are constantly on the move means that I go back and forth about how much effort to put into new friendships. If someone tells me that they’re only here for a year or two, is it even worth forming a close bond? Being the gregarious type, I usually end up making an effort and making friends all the same, and it’s sad when they move on because the likelihood is I may never see them again. Yes, social media now means that you can stay in touch for ever with little effort, but it’s not quite the same as sharing a cup of coffee/glass of wine in person.
Even though transient expats also have to say goodbye a lot, they’re very likely to meet up with long lost expats at their next location. I attended a FIGT (Families in Global Transition) conference a number of years ago and couldn’t believe how many people knew each other from their various postings around the globe. The ones who didn’t know each other usually had close friends in common.
Writer and blogger Apple Gidley, has been an expat all her life, raised in various places around the world then raising her own children the same way. In one of her blogs she wrote, “Goodbyes are hard. Promises to write regularly fall by the wayside as the chaos of packing, unpacking and making new friends while keeping children on track and supporting a husband takes over either life. The intensity of the relationship lessens over the miles and the years, but the memories don’t. And if by chance you happen to bump into one another again in some distant country, at some other women’s club you will pick up just where you left off. A few more grey hairs, a few more hard-earned life lines, a trunkful of experiences that you have to share before one of you moves off again. “
She was speaking at the FIGT conference, and said something very wise – “Never regret meeting people even if they move away. Your life is richer because of your friendships with them”.
As someone who seems to say goodbye an awful lot, I try to keep that adage in mind.
Toni Summers Hargis is the author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom", (St. Martin’s Press) and blogs as Expat Mum.