The Universal Truth About Expat Life: Goodbyes

on July 5, 2017

They say the one constant in life is change, and if that’s true then the one constant in expat life is goodbyes. I had a different post planned for this week but I wanted to write about this instead: the universal truth of expat life. I’m not the first person to write about it and I won’t be the last, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to put my words out into the ether of the Internet.

Having now, essentially, been an expat twice, I have written quite a bit about saying goodbye… to places. I get quite attached to places and find it difficult leaving – I always have to do a grand tour, visit my favorite restaurants, take photos of my favorite (usually mundane to the average eye) sights.

But maybe my preoccupation with saying goodbye to places I’ve lived or loved is hiding a much more difficult goodbye. The people.

I’ve been through my fair share of goodbyes: best friends, roommates, family and boyfriends. It doesn’t get any easier, in fact, unlike most things in life, I think the more you do it the more difficult it gets.

But it’s part of the reality of living in a different country than you come from. The holes in your life that are created with each person you say goodbye to are never quite filled in – but even so, after each goodbye you will continue adding new people to the metaphorical cloth of your life. I think of it a bit like laceย –ย the beauty of expat life actually lies in the holes that get left behind.

This week I said goodbye to my lovely friend Vaish, one of my first friends in Plymouth who I found two years ago when I was feeling particularly new and foreign. Vaish is from India, and a lot of our bond is built over laughing at Britishisms, poo-pooing the rain, comparing our traditions from home, etc. Expats often befriend other expats for this very reason – it’s nice to relate to someone going through a similar experience (I mean… look at this great expat blogging community!). However, when you befriend other expats, that just makes the goodbye-conundrum even worse: even if you don’t leave,ย they will.ย 

Last year I said goodbye to dozens of friends who were in Plymouth on the Erasmus study-exchange program. It was sad to say goodbye, so this year I buckled down on my MSc coursework and strengthened the friendships I already had. In a way I avoided making new friends because I wanted to avoid having to say the inevitable goodbyes.

But of course goodbyes aren’t all bad. In the spring, Vaish and I traveled to Girona together to visit our friends who we said goodbye to last year. And even if expat life has taken friends far away, it has also gifted me with those friendships that I know defy geographical boundaries. I have couches to stay on and kitchens to eat in in India, Spain, Hungary, France, Norway, Italy…

It’s a difficult thing to balance: of course you want to live life to the fullest, but what does that mean when you know every relationship is transitory? Do you make attachments or do you deepen what you already have? I don’t know… I’m still figuring it out, I suppose. I’m curious to hear your thoughts!

Sarah xx

**photos taken from one of our final (for now!) southwest England adventures in St Ives this past weekend <3

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  • Oh, I feel you on this girl!! I once had a friend (an American expat) who said she didn’t bother making new friends because they’d probably move away/she’d move away. As a result, she sequestered herself away for over a decade in the UK having not made any new close friends and generally becoming pretty unhappy towards the end (she’s moved back to the US now). While I totally understood where she was coming from, I do feel like my life is richer for all those friends who have come in and out of my life – whether they are still in it or not. I don’t regret getting to know and love people, even though I know that our friendship as it is may discontinue or may take a different form once we’re apart. I’m sure you have so many wonderful memories with Vaish to look back on (how cute are you two?!) but it’s also wonderful that she came into your life the moment she did. Lots of love and hugs to you <3

    • WOW a decade?! That’s sad ๐Ÿ™ As difficult as it is, I agree that my life is definitely richer for the friends I have made, even if they leave and I leave etc. It’s difficult knowing *how many* to make though, I think right now I’m working on finding a balance between making too many friends who I know will leave, or focusing on relationships I already have and savoring them before I know I will leave/they leave. It’s so difficult but I guess it’s just life! Hugs received <3

  • Sorry about your friend leaving – she seems like a cool chick, indeed! But how wonderful to have an international friendship like this… and you can visit each other :))
    It is sort of a conundrum, and one that I have been at the center of since meeting friends here. People often would ask “so, how long are you going to stay?” and I would reply “one or two years” but now it looks more like, “we have no idea – probably awhile” and ever since then, people have been more enthusiastic about, well, being friends with us (husband and I). But I get it — people don’t want their friends to just slip out of their life.
    In the past year I’ve had a couple Americans contact me about getting together once they moved here, but the kicker is, they were only staying 9 months! It was hard for me to want to forge a friendship when I knew they were leaving, so I guess I’ve been on that side too. Anyway, I’ve digressed .. eep! This is a great topic though… clearly I could go on ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • She really is!! She’s a 3D designer and I’m hoping to feature some of her artwork on le blog at some point! And yes… we have discuss visits many a time ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m already mentally packed to go to her Indian wedding haha. Yes, it definitely does go both ways! Last time I lived in England I was only here for 9 months and I do feel that this time around I have made so many more lasting friends, purely because they/I knew I was going to be sticking around for longer!

  • Having friends move away is the worst! But at least you guys can still KIT via social media, FaceTime, etc. “What a time to be alive” ha! Plus you guys can always visit each other which is always fun ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hahaha yes that’s what everyone says! I am so grateful for facetime and whatsapp etc. Don’t know what I would do with just snail mail! And yeah… the visiting part is definitely the up side!!! Hopefully I will have a trip to India in my future!

  • I dread the “goodbyes” part of expat life.

  • Leaving is always hard. But sadly, I never cry. Even when I left the last time to permanently become an expat back in 2012. My mom and I only casually hugged and said “See ya later”. I guess I’m immune to breaking into tears when leaving because I’ve left so often, and I know I’ll see her again! To me it’s not goodbye but see ya later! #WanderfulWednesday

    • I never cry either! Not a huge crier in general, but usually things like this take a long time to hit me. I almost get more sad saying goodbye to friends than family, because I KNOW I will see family again (and there’s usually a specific date in the diary!) but with friends it is often more uncertain when/if you will meet again ๐Ÿ™

  • I’m so sorry you had to say goodbye to your friend. A few months ago, I had to say goodbye to a girl I got extremely close with in just 8 months. When I met her, I knew she would be leaving 8 months later. As we started to hang out, I was guarded because I didn’t want to get too close to her and have to go through the pain of saying goodbye. But I quickly realized how awesome she was and we just clicked. So I decided to just go for it and become friends and hang out all the time with her. It made saying goodbye a lot harder, but we have a bond that I think will last our entire life. I think it depends on the person you meet, as I know that not all of the girls I meet here in Hawaii will be a lifelong friend. But if you meet someone and you just click, I think it’s worth getting close. Funny thing is, a few weeks ago, I told my friend that when I met her I didn’t want to get too closer to her because I didn’t want to be sad when she left. She told me she had the same thoughts about me! So I think it’s a common thought but it’s worth it in the end.

    • I think I remember reading you write about that! It is so sad, but I don’t regret making the friends that I have because they have enriched my life so much (and hopefully will in the future, too, when we travel to each other!). That’s also kind of how it was when I met my boyfriend as well, as we knew I would only be in the country for a limited time, but we decided to give it a go anyway. Which I am obviously grateful for now!

  • That is definitely the hard part about expat life or the travellers life. You come into each other’s lives but at some point you know you have to say goodbye. Leaving our expat life in Fiji was incredibly sad and I cried on the plane and at our final dinner. But your life will be better for having had those friendships and saying goodbye, then never having had them at all. It’s like the old adage “It is better to have loved and lost then to have never loved at all.” #WanderfulWednesday

  • Bryna | Dotted Line Travels

    Saying goodbye to great people is never easy but I’m glad we have the technology today that makes it easy to keep in touch with people who aren’t nearby! Try to look forward to the next time you’ll see those great people again!

  • There was another Mexican student while in my Master’s program. She befriended a lot of Slovenians, while I got along more with the foreigners, her argument was that they would leave anyway so why bother. Funny thing is, her Slovenian friends ended up moving to other countries as soon as the program was over as well. There’s really no guarantee with friendships, more now than ever. It’s so easy to study or work abroad. My hometown friends are all scattered in the USA, Europe and within Mexico. Which makes it quite sad when I go back home, but most of us end spend the Christmas holidays there anyway so it’s lovely. You get to be so lucky meeting friends from all over the world. Isn’t it so cool that we come from different cultures, religions and we still manage to have soooo much in common! Love this post! <3

  • I am awful at goodbyes! I am a crier anyway so in situations like that I’m just a mess. Sorry your friend left, that sucks. At the moment I’m telling people we’re here for 18 months and then *shrug* because that’s the truth. But maybe I should start telling people we’re here indefinitely so they want to be friends with us! Ha. As for making the effort when you’re the transitory one, I think all you can do is go all in wherever you are. Life is no fun if you’re holding back. Also, pre-expat life my friends kept moving about all over the place anyway, so you can never tell who’ll be sticking around. Thank goodness for the internet that’s all I can say!

  • I’m going through this right now – a good friend left a week ago to Paris and next week my best friend and heart is moving to London. If anything, the older you get, the harder it gets because quite simply, I don’t have the energy I had when I was in my 20s to go out and make new friends. But, I’ll have to because as much as I love sitting on my couch after work, I don’t love it enough to do it 7 nights a week. I do need a social life!!

  • So sorry that your good friend left, it never gets easier, for me at least. I haven’t yet said goodbye to my friends and family without balling my eyes out… every single time. I arrive to the passport desk in a blubbering mess, it always hurts so much ๐Ÿ™

  • Just read Marcella’s comment and for me, saying goodbye to my family has definitely gotten easier with time cause I know that I’ll be back. Saying goodbye to friends who move back home to the other side of the world, is definitely harder for me cause you never know when or if you see each other again… ๐Ÿ™

  • The goodbyes with my mom are the hardest!! We both cry EVERY SINGLE TIME! For me, it helps to have our next visit already planned. It’s easier to keep telling each other, “We’ll see each other in September!!”… Instead of the panic in “I don’t know when I’ll see you again!!” Thank god for FaceTime!

  • Rachel Heller

    I hear ya! I’ve lived as an expat in the Netherlands for the last 20 years. What’s hard for me is that I make friends with other expats (for the reasons you describe above) and then they up and leave! And the ones who return to where they grew up tend to drop out of sight and I never hear from them again, even when I try to keep in touch. I’ve ended up protecting myself by finding out right off the bat whether a person I’m meeting for the first time is staying for good or only plans to be here a year or two. If they’re temporary, it’s just not worth investing that emotional energy and I make much less of an effort. I suppose that sounds cold, but good-byes are hard!

  • Greta Omoboni

    Being an expat myself I can relate to this! It’s hard saying goodbye to people, but then I love travelling to wherever it is they’re going and seeing them again!

  • This is so, so true!

  • I’ve been back in the US for a year and four months after living in South Korea for 7 years on and off. I’m still not right here, and maybe I never will be. I miss the friends I met in Korea. I wish that we could all be together again, but so many of us have gone off to different places. I’m making new friends here in the US, but I feel like an expat here. I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Denver. I’m constantly scheming about how to become an expat again, but I’d also like to settle down in the Pacific Northwest. My advice would be to strengthen the friendships that you already have, but to be open to new friends who come into your life at the right time. Spend as much quality time as you can with those you’ll have to say goodbye to eventually, but don’t close yourself off to new friendships entirely.

  • I LOVE your lace analogy and this is an especially appropriate post for me to read this week, with two friends leaving and some more very good friends soon to go. I guess my friendships are a little different as a lot of my friends are New Zealanders living in London, so it’s possible we’ll reconnect when/if I move back there one day. It doesn’t ease the pain when they do leave though!

  • So true! I think saying goodbye to fellow expats has been a hard one – it’s fabulous to meet other immigrants like me, foreigners to discuss fish out of water stuff. So sad when they leave!

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