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.