No matter where in the world we are, we need friendship like sunny afternoons full of laughter and chocolate cake, and we need friendship like late evenings curled on the couch with red wine and thoughtful conversation. We need friendship that is like the comfort sharing a steaming cup of tea with someone on dark winter day.
Friendship like a candle placed on the windowsill, spilling warmth and light into our souls.
We crave understanding, touch, honesty and acceptance. Most of us have a deep need for genuine community, authentic communication and friendship that is rich, healthy and healing.
For the expat or person living abroad, pulling up deep roots and saying goodbye to our own little corners of the world, to our families and everything familiar can be as disorienting as it is exciting. The world is much smaller than ever before and people move with ease from place to place making more connections with an increasing number people but sometimes failing to create the sort of deep friendship that nourishes the heart and soul.
Many who leave their own countries share a taste for adventure and a passion for new beginnings but at the same time, can experience a sense of dislocation, disconnection and deep loneliness, regardless of how positively they view their move and new life.
Supportive, genuine friendships in a different country can enrich our lives immeasurably and provide us with so much that we often take for-granted in our home countries but feel the intense lack of when settling into another culture.
1) Genuine friendship can provide us with a sense of connection, home and belonging.
When we leave our country indefinitely or permanently, even if we were eager to leave, our sense of home and self can be deeply shaken.
We lose the innate sense of knowing unquestionably where we belong and sometimes we lose a sense of who we are for awhile because everything that we have used to define ourselves is stripped away. As we navigate life in an unknown culture, perhaps not knowing the language or how to go about even the most basic tasks, we can feel sharply at times a strong sense of not belonging and not knowing where we fit or who we are in our new surroundings.
When we meet and connect with others and experience authentic friendships, we develop a sense of being at home with ourselves and others. We are seen and loved for who we are. We are strengthened by knowing that we are understood. We see that we are accepted at our worst as well as at our best. This is the strength in friendship, a generous allowance for us to be who we are without fear of rejection. We begin to "fit" again, and are brought back to ourselves.
2) When living in a foreign country, friends become family.
It is natural to grieve the loss of the family we leave behind, even if we are married with families of our own. We can feel the loss of the immediate support, acceptance and presence of our parents and siblings in our daily lives intensely. As time passes and we settle into life in a new country, we find that friends step in to fill the gap. I am not saying we miss our families less or that they become less important, only that we adjust and adapt to our new realities.
In a different country, friends are often the ones beside us as we struggle through things like infertility, difficult pregnancies, separations, illness or homesickness. They are often the first to rejoice with us when we bring home a child through adoption, buy a new home, or have a baby. They celebrate with us and they stand by us in hard times. They are there for the everyday occurrences as well. Coffee, conversation, advice. The faces around our tables on holidays, the ones standing beside us at baptisms, weddings and funerals, and offering practical help when things are challenging. Friends like this show us love in action.
3) Friends Make Our Hearts Happy
Perhaps, most of all, we need our friends because they lift our spirits and bring fun and laughter into our lives. It can be hard to get by without the heart to heart sharing and understanding we can find in close friendships. We can draw strength, courage and inspiration from them. Good friends give us a reason to dress up and show up. If a friendship is healthy, we feel at our best, our prettiest, our kindest. They bring out the best in us, the joy in our hearts. They remind us of who we are if we forget for awhile and we like who we are with them.
Friends fill our lives with richness and color whether we live in a foreign country or not. However there is something about having a solid group of friends when we are far from home that makes the distance easier to bear and burdens we carry, lighter.
The people we surround ourselves with matter so much. They inspire us with their strength and love and kindness. They help us to laugh at ourselves. They give us space to be who we are. They heal the broken places.
So to my friends, thank you. You have helped me in my journey more than I can say and I hope that in some small ways, I have returned the favor.