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How Being an Expat Can Be Tough on Friendships

The 30th of July is the International Day of Friendship, a day on which the whole world celebrates friendships between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals. People who have left their home country are in a unique place — not only geographically, but also personally. One of the many challenges expats face is making their expat friendships work.

The Challenge behind Expat Friendships

Usually, when expats arrive in their new country of residence they first bond with other expats. It’s perfectly logical and understandable — other expats can make the landing in a new country a little softer and more pleasant in the beginning.

Nonetheless, for a true expat experience it is important to become friends with locals, too. By just hanging out with other expats, chances are high that an expat will miss out on a lot. Locals are the ones that can show you the culture from the inside. With them you can not only practice your language skills, but learn about their cultural heritage and try out the local culinary delicacies.  

During their time abroad expats also relate differently to their old friends and friends back home, which can be problematic at times. The feelings of missing out, not being involved, and not understanding what’s happening aren’t uncommon among both parties. While you might worry about how to extend your visa, your friend at home might be preoccupied with finding a new job. It certainly doesn’t have to be, but it can be difficult to relate to each other if your lives are just completely opposite.

Moving Back Home

It is not unusual for expats to move back home after some time of working abroad. But what happens to all the expat friendships?

With the friends back home there are basically two outcomes. You might meet and it’s as if you just saw each other a week ago and everything is as it was before you left the country — one of the greatest experiences! In my opinion those friendships that survive the distance are the friendships that will last for a lifetime, no matter if you have contact every week, every other month or less than that.
Another possibility is that you encounter your old friend, but you don’t really relate to each other anymore. Too many things have changed, let alone the friendship. Losing friends is, unfortunately, part of being an expat, and accepting that can be tough.

Now, what about the close friends you’ve made during your stay abroad? Well, you’ll probably try to stay in touch. At least you promise to do so when you say goodbye to each other. It’s going to be difficult to maintain the same level of friendship you had before, no doubt. And as with all expats, you’ll need to readjust, too, when you come back home. While you are generally still the same person as before, your life might be completely different in your home country, which can complicate friendships.

But again, living in the 21st century, technology makes things feasible that were considered beyond the bounds of possibility one hundred years ago. So, since it is the International Day of Friendship, why not celebrate this day and make use of that technology by calling your friend thousands of miles away, letting them know you still think of them and catching up on the latest news? You can also go and meet up with the friends you have met abroad, and maybe even talk to a stranger and make a new friend.

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Patricia Quade

"I found some amazing people on InterNations, and now I enjoy helping other newcomers in Kuwait."

Antoine Mariaux

"With InterNations it was easy to find the right school for our kids after they joined me in Kuwait."

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