Keeping in touch and connected with the people we care about seems to be a topic of the year 2020 for those of us who live abroad.
I asked you on Instagram lately about how as an expat you make sure to stay connected and manage these remote relationships with friends and family. Interestingly enough, I got a mix of responses.
First group of responses was mostly around the technologies used – Skyping, Whatsapping, Facetiming. Basically, connecting on a video chat regularly, but sometimes feeling like you can’t do much more beyond that.
Second group of responses was a bit more powerless, along the lines of “I can chat with them every day, but it actually makes me feel even further away and disconnected”.
The third group of responses provided some alternative ways to managing this remote relationship set-up.
There is no right or wrong way to stay connected – you need to find a way that works for you
For some of us, a weekly video call with our parents will be enough to feel connected. For others, even daily video chats will simply not do. The key is to figure out what is it that you need, what do your friends and family need as well, and find a way that works for your particular circumstances.
If these chats actually make you feel more sad and distanced or perhaps are not sufficient for you, what is it that you are craving? What kinds of needs are unmet for you at the moment?
And I know that your answer may be as specific as “I want to see my parents more often”. However, clearly, your reality doesn’t allow for this at the moment. So let’s think about how to work through it.
Try to name the need behind the seeing parents more often. It could be for example: a need to speak the native language more often, a need to stay connected to your country, a need to know what’s going on in your family’s/friends’ lives, a need to express your feelings freely and openly…
It’s just a few examples, but you can already see that what on the surface seems like a desire to see your parents more often, could in reality be many other things.
So… how can you take control of what you can do in this moment to help yourself? You have the power over more than you may realise 😉 Depending on the need you identify behind the feelings of the sadness or disconnect, you might want to take a different action.
Wisdom from the community – ideas on how to stay connected and manage remote relationships
The most wisdom often comes from the people who have lived the experience. Below you will find a variety of ways in which people manage(d) the remote relationships set up.
It’s not necessarily about doing all of these always. Rather, treat this as an inspiration list in case you feel like a weekly video call is just not doing it for you.
1. Being with them during important occasions despite not physically visiting
It could be small things like sending a gift or a card for birthdays, births of the children, weddings you could not attend; recording a video which is then played during a ceremony; attending via a video call.
Sure, it’s not the same as being there in person. However, the effort counts and not only makes them feel like you care, but also ensures that you feel a part of these important one-time events in your friends’ and family’s lives.
Plus, the joy of the creative and planning process for these surprises can give you a boost of endorphins too!
2.Talk about your day-to-day activities
Do you also know that scenario when you jump on a call with your friends after two months, they ask you ‘So good to finally see you! How have you been?!’ and you’re thinking “gosh, where do I start! I bought a dog, I met a guy, he’s lovely, though we had our bit of adjusting to do, I’m thinking of changing jobs because I can’t take it any longer even though the job itself is actually pretty good; So all in all, its alright, but some changes probably on the horizon” – – then you answer “Yep, all good, can’t complain! What about you?”…
It can sometimes feel like summarising the two months of our lives can just be too much, you maybe don’t really need to or want to go back to some events. Maybe you even already forgot about some of the stresses by now, and yet it feels like it would be good for your friends to have the context of what happened for any future conversations.
This moment of hesitation is common – how much detail do I go into? Do they even want to still know these day-to-day stuff?
If you caught yourself having these thoughts then you’re not alone. But you could also now make a choice to consciously talk to your friends (not everyone most likely, maybe it will just be a few people you have been the closest with) about your day to day. Day to day activities, worries, joys.
What this does is it doesn’t make your friends feel like they’re missing out on your life (because it was in the past now and you don’t need to talk about it). They know they can still share their life openly with you too, and you get to feel connected to the people back home.
3.Share pictures and videos from your day-to-day
Linked to the above, using the modern technology to share the snippets of your day to day life is a nice way to stay connected too. Show that cake you’ve baked, or the child as they’re playing, or a funny picture. If you don’t have the time to have a longer conversation, these snippets which can be viewed by your friend whenever they have a minute, can be really nice moments in a day for both sides.
4.Set up the time to do something together
Video calling doesn’t need to only be about a conversation and catching up on our daily lives. The pandemic showed us all, even those who don’t live abroad far away from their families and most friends, that although not the same you can watch films together or play games on Play Station even if virtually.
When I first moved abroad, and was away from my partner for 1+ months, it felt really lonely – I was in a new country, I didn’t know many people in London, far away from him, whereas before we were living together and spent a lot of time together. So we were doing our regular activities together – cooking, cleaning, and chatting as we were doing things, just to feel less lonely. It sounded to some like an overkill, but it was a thing that kept me sane. So again – whatever works for you!!
5.Schedule the time in regularly for a catch up
If you need these calls with your close ones, scheduling (although sounds rigid to some) is a great tip. It’s difficult to manage time zones, different work schedules and life activities, especially if you’d like to talk with not only one other person but with a group of friends for example.
Putting it in the calendar and making it a priority can ensure that you will see each other, and have that time together.
Across time zones and across countries, it may not always work to say “I’ll call you later!”.
6.Increase self-awareness and sense of belonging
Staying connected and managing remote relationships is unintuitively not only about your interactions with the family members and friends who are abroad.
It is also about your relationship with yourself and creating a sense of belonging in the country you live in right now.
If you feel like going abroad has been the biggest mistake of your life (which, it may well be, but that’s a discussion and work for another time – email me if you feel that and we can talk separately to explore your feelings and options), then no video call with your family will make you feel better. These calls with friends and family are likely to make you feel even more distant, sad and disappointed than you already are. Because you’d still be living the past, reminiscing how great life has been and how awful it is now. And basically – you’d want to go back home.
If you had your clear reasons to move abroad, some goals you wanted to achieve and experiences you wanted to live, but somehow for the moment it doesn’t feel that great, then it may be a different story. If you are clear on your goals, it may be a matter of understanding your needs and aspirations a bit better, and finding some ways of feeling like you belong in the new place while still connecting with your loved ones back home.
When you dig into your needs, as you saw from the first section of this article, you may find a variety of things lying beneath the surface. Understanding them gives you the advantage of addressing these needs directly through different channels instead of trying to force something that is unrealistic (like flying home every week during a pandemic etc.).
For example, if connecting with family back home is really aiming to serve as a way to be able to use your native language regularly, how else could you meet this need where you are now?
These are just some ideas from our expat community on what strategies helped them manage these remote relationships with friends and family back home. Which ones resonate most with you? Which ones have you tried already? Which ones are you adding to your list?
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