In the past five years we have lived in three different countries, and we’re just about to move to our fourth. From our home country of England to Thailand and then Germany, the latest move will take us to France.
I have learned a lot through all of these experiences…the biggest thing being how little I really know about the world, how much there always is to learn about people, about countries and cultures. About myself.
However, in all of this, I have never learned how to say goodbye to the people who have become like family to me. I absolutely believe in the importance of celebrating your time in a place, that a sense of closure is essential to allow you to be open to the next location.
But, as the song goes (which I hope you now have stuck in your head too…it’s been buzzing round mine for days!) I never can say goodbye. Not to those friends who have become really close. It’s always ‘See you later’. In fact, it’s often the ‘white ninja’…you know, slipping away without making a fuss, because to actually recognise this is the last time is too much.
I started this blog a while back, as a way of helping myself – and hopefully other expats – to navigate a life lived away from where you’re from. To find and to share the ways to make wherever ‘here’ is feel like home. And of course a lot of that comes down to the practical stuff; getting kids settled at school, ways to make your new apartment or house feel like ‘yours’, finding a place that serves good coffee…
But really, a place only starts to feel like home when you have friends. Sometimes these friendships come quickly and easily, sometimes it takes an agonising age before you meet someone that you click with.
The unfortunate truth though is that the more you click, the more it hurts to break away. Expat friendships are something special. The ‘in it together’ mentality means people bond quickly…or, to put it another way, you become each other’s life support.
Because we all need support. Support with the everyday of getting to grips with living in a new place – someone to take you to the best supermarket, or to show you what baking soda is in German (which I found out at the end of 3 years!). Support when things go awry – someone who can pick up your kids when you get stuck in traffic, or walk the dog when you’ve had an operation and can’t even make it down the stairs. And support for the big stuff. Life continues to happen wherever we live. Parents get ill. Relationships flounder. Health diagnoses are made that are hard to face. And it’s our friends that help us to get through.
What does ‘home’ really mean? For me, home is a place of sanctuary, a safe place. And as our lovely home in Germany was packed up box by box and slowly emptied, I saw how it was just another space. That it was the friendships I had made that had given me true sanctuary.
These friendships that are founded so quickly become forged in steel. No, not steel. Solid gold. All these friendship ‘clicks’ are links in a chain that bind us together…no matter where we go, they still exist. Perhaps not in the way they did before, but then nor do we. With every link, every friendship, we are forever changed for the better.
And of course it hurts to leave friends behind. To conduct a friendship over WhatsApp is not the same. The leaving is never easy…how do you convey to people just how much they have meant to you? That without them, your life would have been so much poorer, so much less fun? That you love them, and can’t imagine not seeing them every day anymore?
I have one very special friend in Germany who was an expat kid. She has lived in Germany for a long time but, as her kids go to the international school, she is friends with the ‘three year cycle’ expats. I asked her how she does it…constantly making friends only to see them leave. And her response was that, for a long time, she didn’t. But then she realised what she was missing out on. And her life has been enhanced by every friendship she has made.
For me, I think that we have always got room for more love in our lives. And our lives are never made smaller by loving more. It’s the friendships we make that teach us so much about the world…and we all have always got more to learn. But let’s not learn to say goodbye. Only Au Revoir.
14 Replies to “Moving on, leaving friends…Why I never can say Goodbye”
Wow this is awesome and sums expat life so well . I’ve been back a year now from the Middle East and it’s the friendships I miss most . Expat life is very unique in the sense that friends become like family who offer a support lifeline while settling into a new country and it’s very hard to replicate that in non expat situations . Lovely words, thank you and best of luck in your new adventure.
Thank you! I know repatriation is potentially the most difficult move…I hope you are feeling happy and settled.
How precisely accurate this article is. Loved reading and identifying with the same attitude after my expat life. Social media has the power to help maintain (and make) friendships…….until we meet again. x
Aw thank you Carmella! x
I’m sure all expats identify with your feelings, and I know that you’ll soon make many new friends in France, particularly once the girls start school. We aren’t with you in person, but you also have the benefit of a loving family who you can rely on and are always there for you. xx
Aw thanks Connie…I don’t think we’d have managed this as well without the support of our family x
Your friendship means the world to me, I miss you so much all the time hun, you are one of a kind and I will always dream with the day we see each other again. I’m sure your new home will bring you so many more friends because you’re a light for those who have been lucky like me to have met you. Lots of love always ?
Aw Maru my love you made me cry! I hope we can see each other again soon. Lots of love to you and your gorgeous family x
Hi, whereabouts in France are you moving to? We’ve been in the South West of France for 5 years now, and it has been an interesting journey! So if you you would like any tips, just let me know
Oh that’s so nice of you! We are in Paris, in the western suburbs
My mother was an American foreign service wife in the Cold War era. What she could do and who she could know we’re circumscribed by embassy protocol. As much as she loved and excelled at her role, being with out true close friends made life very lonely. How much richer the experience what happen with the kinds of friends that you have developed!
That’s fascinating, but it must have been so lonely for her! Thanks for taking the time to comment
Very hard to say goodbye to close friends. No matter what, you will always carry a piece of them in your heart. And hey there is always skype, facebook, instagram, etc. to keep in touch.
Distance won’t diminish strong friendship bonds. As an expat, I hate being so far from my friends but at the same time, I’m glad that every time I see them, it’s like time hasn’t past at all.