It’s September again. I’m back in Southeast Asia, and that means rainy season, so my umbrella better be in my purse at all times. I’ve stubbornly put out my fall decorations, though this place has never seen “fall,” and I’ve just paid $7 for a small head of Australian broccoli.
In June, another expat on Facebook posted, “It’s PCS (permanent change of station) season again. Thanos just snapped his fingers… and they’re gone.”
We’ve been doing this expat thing for only 2 1/2 years, and I can already count up on both hands the number of friends that we’ve made and have moved on. This summer was particularly bad for our family on the lost friends spectrum. A lot of the families that arrived when we did moved on in June. They were the ones that had power of medical attorney for our kids. They were the ones that had our extra house keys. Those relationships formed an important background of support for us. We knew they were there if we needed them.
We spent 6 weeks in the U.S. this summer soaking up the free Dr. Pepper refills, the piles of queso and chips, and the green space and playgrounds. I was ready to return to my own bed and my own space (and to a diet where I would hopefully lose the 5 lb. I gained in the U.S.) But I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel to be back in a place where I’d be reminded that some precious people weren’t going to be a part of my daily life anymore.
I said to myself that I needed to put on my big girl pants, take a deep breath, and dive in again to the endless work of making friends. I’m still saying that to myself. Saying it doesn’t make it any less hard to do, though. Some days, I’d rather curl up in my yoga pants on my couch with a book and decide to make do with friends from 18th century British classics.
“I don’t like making friends with people who are leaving.” A friend said this recently, and it got me thinking. I don’t like it, either. The problem is that if you’re an expat, your friendship pool just got really small if you’re only going to make friends with people that probably won’t leave. And even if you’ve decided to have as many local friends as possible, they can leave, too.
The leaving rate is much, much higher in expat life than it was in my old life in the U.S. Even there, though, it happens regularly. One of the families that we were closest to moved away the year before we came overseas. I’ve been texting with friends with unstable work situations in the U.S., and I’ve realized that some of them might be gone when we return. I’ve learned that the only guarantee that I’m going to get is that friends will come and go.
Here’s what I’ve decided at this point in my expat journey:
If you count the cost, the cost will often be too high. So don’t count it. Be open to love and community anyway.
A few weeks ago, I noticed another expat in our community was selling some books on our group chat, and it looked like she shared my tastes. We met, and now our oldest sons have new friends, and I have a regular coffee date. But I had to text those difficult words, “Would you like to go to coffee?”, not knowing what the answer would be.
She told me today that she strongly felt God telling her to be open to making a new friend. I (probably) only have a year left in this country, and she knows that, but she isn’t counting the cost. I thanked her for that, and I thanked God for reminding me that He will provide the relationships He thinks I need.
Another brave family invited us out for lunch after church. They saw that our family was a part of their regular routine, and they recognized their need for new friends as this year begins. We said yes, and now we have friends to go to lunch with, and they now know about a new Bible study close to them to try out.
There are valuable and beautiful relationships out there to be had, but we have to open ourselves to them. I don’t always feel strong enough to try, but I’m going pray for the strength I need. The alternative doesn’t look so great to me.
Ellen Bragdon lives with her husband and 3 sons in Manila, Philippines. She spends her days homeschooling, searching for imported Dr. Pepper, sweating, and discovering new varieties of Asian food. You can find her at www.suburbansagagoesglobal.blogspot.com.