The term “expat friendships” doesn’t have an official definition. The way I see it, expat friendships are any kind of friendship an expat has to another person — be it to another expat, to a local, to a bosom buddy back home, or to any other friend that an expat has made along his or her journey of life.
From my personal experience as a German-American expat in Canada, I sometimes found it hard to balance all these friendships. The most effortless friendships are to those living closest to you: you spend time together, you share experiences (good and not so good), you laugh and sometimes cry together and you help each other. When living abroad, these friendships can be very intense, even though you might have only known each other for a short amount of time.
Thanks to technology, staying in touch with friends around the world requires much less effort than it used to. At the same time, though, it is important to distance yourself a little bit from your friends at home to help you focus on where you’re living now and on meeting people and making friends there. After all, since most expats live abroad for an extended period of time, developing a local circle of friends needs to be a priority.
Technology may make it easy to keep in touch with friends back home and all over the world, but that’s not the whole story. Sure, it’s great that Facebook lets me know what my friends are doing. I can look at their pictures on Instagram, message them on WhatsApp and even video call them through Skype. I’m amazed at and thankful for the communicative options that social media platforms offer. But still, those digital friendships lack the substance of face-to-face encounters on a regular basis. It’s one thing to share experiences with friends, and it’s another to only write to someone else about those experiences. And let’s be honest, out of my 800 Facebook friends, I’m only really close to a very small percentage of them.
The intensity of friendships in general can be very different — there are those friends whom you’ve known all your life, the ones from school or university, people you’ve met abroad and all your other friends. With every friend you have a unique history and a distinctive way of relating to each other. Your friendships with fellow expats can be very short but all the more intense for a number of reasons.
All these similarities between people living in a place where they feel somewhat lost at first can form strong bonds and thus special friendships.
Alissa Maier is a German-American student who recently returned back to her roots in Munich, Germany. She currently works at InterNations as an intern in the Content & Communications Department.
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