On Expat Friendships

I’m finding friendships in the expat world hard.

I have lots of acquaintances.

I have neighbours with whom I share numerous the occasional glass of wine.

I have two friends who I would consider to be “close friends”.

But here’s the thing I’m wondering – do many people make deep long-lasting friendships in the expat world?  Is it possible?

I know it must be, but for me there’s a blockage that pops up at a certain point.  The point where people announce that they are planning on going home or moving on in X amount of time and it seems pointless to pursue the friendship beyond the acquaintances stage.  I’m not sure I have the emotional strength to start over and over again.  To continually share my real story and not the superficial caricature I trot out in the embryonic friendship stages.

How do I fight that urge to withdraw?  Or should I not fight it and drift along in a sea of acquaintances during our stay in expat land?

12 thoughts on “On Expat Friendships

  1. I think it depends on how long you live in another country. I have lived away from home (the uk) in australia with my aussie husband for 10 years and I think that it took me 5 years to make real friends. I now have 5 close female friends, but even that isnt’ the same as the 4 or 5 friends I grew up with. But I cherish the friends I have on each side of the world as they give me different things. I think you also need to be selective, if you don’t click with someone it doesn’t matter, you may only need them for a reason or a season not life.

    • Love that last phrase! And friendships change, someone who you don’t click with today may be a close friend in a few years time. And vice versa.

  2. Hi KJ,
    Just stumbled across your blog through twitter and so happy that I did, especially as I was pondering this exact same question today! I’ve been out of Melbourne (my home town) for over 4 years now and the longer we are away the more disconnected I feel from ‘home’. Thing is, I often feel disconnected in our new home too (been in SG since May, HK before that). Friendships are few and far between (the really good ones anyway) and you do tend to meet a lot of people, but few you would call upon if stuck for a hand (like when you are sick with a toddler at home and have no helper). One thing I have to keep telling myself is to just put yourself out there (hard I know when you keep repeating your story again and again) because you really never know who you will meet. Took me more than 2 years to find some wonderful friends in HK and 1 really special friend that moved to SG same time we did. On those days you do need to withdraw however, don’t forget to do so with a Kit Kat in hand 🙂
    Cheers, Sarah

    • Hi Sarah,
      Thanks for stopping by and I’m glad it;s not just me! We’ve also been in SG since May. I’m sure it will all work itself out and I’m glad that it’s not just me who feels this way!

  3. Yes, it is possible to make deep, long-lasting friendships. In fact I would say that my deepest friendships were made while I was an expat. There is an element of chance, though. I didn’t make deep friendships in all the places I lived, even though I did “all the right things” in terms of getting out and meeting people. So don’t give up, and for sure don’t withdraw … you definitely won’t find those soulmates if you do that.

    • This is excellent news.
      I guess my post sounded a little depressed, which isn’t the case as I’m feeling quite chipper at the minute! It was just that on Saturday night I was chatting with a circle of ladies at my neighbours farewell an realised that despite knowing them for several months I knew nothing substantial about any of them. I just wondered if that was just the deal with expat friendships?

  4. Hi Kel,
    Sound like some pretty sage advice there too…my view is that I haven’t done what you are doing. In our travels as teachers around NSW we made some long lasting friends, with whom we connected once we’d all moved back to home bases..eg Sydney.
    However, in my own life situation now, my friends who were school colleague based have basically disappeared from my world, despite my one-sided attempts to keep them working.
    Maybe it’s the way of the world now.
    I know too, that with study and more soon occupying your brain and time, there will be even more conversations to follow via Uni and more.
    Good luck with the social side of being an expat. In my book, you are doing well.

  5. I agree with your post! It is very challenging to make friends here. My personality is to naturally not dig in too deep regardless of where I live geographically but especially here in Singapore. It takes so much time and effort to form lasting, real, meaningful relationships and there’s so much else to do here like keep my marriage and family together and myself sane and often no time left to look outside of these immediate and demanding relationships. I think the transient nature of our life is also a major factor. I’ve always told my kids that we are blessed to find one or two really good, bear your soul, love you anyway, type friends in our lifetime. They will come but we’re never sure where or when. I get down occasionally. I’m down to a few friends left back home. Tough pill to swallow but I suppose it does simplify things. Living in Asia, I’ve never been around so many people in all my life and felt so alone. Ever. But I’m always open to meeting people and then seeing where those meetings take me. It’s particularly tough for us females. Guys don’t typically need much in the form of relationships but we do. It’s how we’re built. 🙂 Hang in there! AND… I like you! I’ve thought from the moment we met that we have a similar outlook on life, parenting, etc. Can you move to my condo??? 🙂

  6. The expat-friendship issue is one of the hardest things to deal with. Many expats don’t invest in “real” friendships because you just lose your friends again, so why bother. This may not even be a conscious decision. But you end up living a shallower life.

    On the other hand, for many expats, it is easier to make friends abroad because you’re part of an expat community made up of people who have similar experiences and can identify with you and your life. This is often not easy in your home country once you’ve been gone a while because you’ve become “estranged” and often feel like a foreigner in your own country.

    For me, this friendship issue is one of the biggest negatives of expat life.

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