To give full meaning to our lives, we all need to connect with other people. Whether we maintain close relationships with our childhood friends or meet new people, as we grow older, eventually we learn to recognize the more valuable connections right away. On the other hand, some relationships are bound to expire, lasting only for a season or for a reason.
A friendship is a magical tool that can bring out the positive energy in your life when everything seems negative. I believe that it is truly one of the most precious things in life.
As an expat, creating and nurturing friendships is no easy task when everyone else around you seems to be in the same boat. Making new friends and maintaining established friendships is one of the biggest challenges for expats. Building your own social network can be just as difficult as dealing with other aspects of life abroad.
There must be other people looking for friends just like you, new to the city, hoping to make indelible impressions that will translate into long-lasting friendships; friendships that will evolve into late evenings, trying out new restaurants together and having brunch on Saturday mornings. However as idyllic as that sounds, it really is not so simple.
Maintaining a friendship takes work and commitment, flexibility and understanding- but the payoff is huge. When you live so far away from your family the friends you make abroad ultimately fill that void, therefore it is important to be thoughtful about the people you spend time with.
Some people are lucky enough to form long-lasting bonds. For me personally, making friends when I first moved to Dubai was definitely not a walk in the park. It was certainly difficult to juggle a budding social life with moving houses, adjusting to the time difference and learning the ropes at my workplace, but like anything in life, determination is key. While I didn’t exactly rack up a heap of new numbers in my contact book, I soon found out that quality trumps quantity every single time.
In reality, you actually don’t need ten new friends to make you feel validated. In fact, one quality friend is all you need to start growing your personal network. I was lucky enough to find one friend who I will eternally treasure. Not only did this friend show me the ropes, but he also introduced me to other people who I would form great connections with and eventually impacted my life in a truly positive way. Whenever I want to appreciate how far I’ve come, I reflect on the last two and a half years and look back at that time when I knew no one and imagine how different my life would be had I not met this one person. It genuinely fills me with such appreciation and I am eternally grateful to my first true friend.
As your new friendships begin to bloom and you get all caught up in how awesome your new life is, it is important to remember the friends back in your home country. While I would admit that I sometimes suck at keeping in touch, I try my best to keep up with my friends in Trinidad despite the distance. Most days though, this is easier said than done. It is really hard to nurture your budding friendships while making sure that your old friends don’t feel alienated or excluded from your new life. I just want to keep everyone happy!
Alas, I think we can all agree that one of the worst parts of being an expat is having to say goodbye to friends so often.
Possibly my least favorite thing about expat life is how ‘temporary’ everything feels in general. Friendships, romantic relationships and jobs most often come with an expiry date (until you move or the other person does) and you can never tell if it was truly worth it at the end.
Some people stay friends on social media while other friendships fizzle out, having served their purpose. In two and a half years, I’ve had 11 great friends either move back to their home country or on to a new place. This is difficult and sometimes makes you hesitant to invest in other friendships when you know that the other person (or you) will move in a couple of years. It gives you a sense of the short-term satisfaction and less stability. Friends come and go, you invest in them, they leave and then you end up feeling lonely in a country which seems so familiar but without real friends to enjoy it with.
While this undeniably sucks and sometimes you feel like you’re back at square one, it is really important to uphold the positivity and realize that life is constantly moving and with an optimistic approach, you are capable of overcoming literally everything.