Saying goodbye is something we do throughout our lives, for a whole range of different reasons. Being an expat, it becomes part of your vernacular without even realising it does. It is something you sign up for before you leave home, yet you only really consider the pain in that moment of saying goodbye to your friends and family as you depart your shores. The expat life is transient, that is a given.
It is the one constant we know about when we sign up for it yet what we don’t always consider is how hard it will be when that time of year comes up.
What is the nature of often short lived relationships? When you are plunged into a new unknown world, you flounder about, constantly seeking something, someone to help get you grounded. Someone who will help you navigate, who will understand. It is one of the rules of expat life. ‘Find your tribe’ it is written. You need the support. So you do. You meet maybe fifty people and spend time trying to get to know them, trying to infiltrate the cliques, and understand the rules of the social structure. What is the pecking order? Out of those fifty you may find three or five people who become real friends. The ones you can begin to trust, to confide in.
The ones who will come over with a bottle of wine and cheese so you can sit, cry and self-medicate, as well as laugh with you and share your joy. Those friends will share your journey, and they will ‘get it’ in a way your oldest and dearest back home just can’t.
Over time, the other people you meet slowly become more recognisable. You have more interactions, more social conversations and you start to build a sense of inclusion. It is a nice feeling to walk into an event and recognise faces and have people greet you. You start to relax more. You feel okay. Your mind and body have reconfigured your place in your world. The cognitive dissonance has eased up as your context has changed and you being to live your ‘new normal’.
Then one day it starts. ‘By the way, we are leaving’. ‘Oh did you hear about so and so, they are going’. There is a brief moment where silence fills your space as you feel suddenly transported into some sort of void. You had just started to feel settled, just started to get to know people and now it is all turned upside down again. Your brain is scrambling once more, wondering how to process this. How to help your heart get through this. One lady I know said she has been doing this for so many years it has become too hard. She will enjoy the farewell parties and the good times but when the speeches begin, when the tears start, she will leave or mentally disappear. I watched this happen as I sat next to her one night. How did she do that? Years of practice I guess and I was impressed. Self preservation at its very best. I asked another friend who is an expat back home. I asked her how she found saying goodbye to her expat friends. Her response was beautifully pragmatic. She said ‘saying goodbye is hard, but expected. It doesn’t change how I make friends I just know these friend relationships are different’. She tells me she doesn’t expect to build the kind of relationships that she has back home, where she has lifelong, deep and extremely connected friendships. This is a useful way of looking at it really isn’t it.
My friend back home is right. The friendships I am making here, some of those are deeply connected. However whether it is because in the back of my mind I know this life is temporary, for whatever reason these friendships are different. Familiarity and comfort are fast developing yet there is still that distance between us. A gap that was filled a long time ago with my friends back home. Despite this though, I know that as is the flow of life, some of the friendships I make here will last a lifetime, and over time that gap I feel will disappear. We will visit each other in our new homes and talk like we were never apart. There will be comfort with them. The rest will be fleeting and become memories of an experience that has been unbelievably exciting and excruciatingly difficult, with all the bits that fall in-between. We may meet again; we may just stay Facebook Friends. Or when we say goodbye here, that will just be the end of it.
It is the cycle of life. With the outgoing, room is made for the incoming and we see the new faces appearing. Those of us who have been here a while, who empathise; who recognise the need for kindness, will put out our hands of friendship. We seek out those who look lost, lonely and sad. We become first contact, help them navigate their new community and who knows; perhaps these new people will become firm lifelong friends too. Perhaps not, it does not matter. What is that song?…Que Sera Sera…whatever will be, will be.