Living away from home might be a difficult experience, especially at the beginning when you don’t quite know anyone, don’t know where everything is, don’t have rituals in place yet and in general you are still the new one. The role of friends and relatives in this transition period is very important.
What is important for most people who have recently moved to live abroad? From my own experience as well as talking to people who have moved abroad recently there are three main things: staying in touch with the close ones who stayed in the home country, being able to visit the home country reasonably often, sharing their experiences of being in the new place with the ones you love. The list is not exclusive of course, but is a start to a conversation about how to help your close ones to deal with the cultural change they encounter when moving abroad, regardless of what their reason for leaving the home country was.
Long-distance relationship with friends and family
The need for staying in touch when you move abroad is really big. Of course, there are lots of new experiences, new places you visit, new people you meet, but the first thing you think of is ‘I have to tell [friend’s name] about all this!’. As much as in the first weeks or months you may enjoy the new place, there is a strong need to stay in touch.
Some tips for friends and families of expats in that topic:
– Don’t point out the fact that they’ve left. Or what’s even worse – that they have left y o u, abandoned y o u. They know they’ve left, they had their reasons, there might be various ones – from trying to earn more money to make a living, all the way to falling in love and eloping. You can’t change that and the best thing is to simply accept it.
– Don’t promise to visit if you’re not sure you will. If you don’t know or are not sure, don’t promise to visit the person abroad. You can of course say you’d like to come at some point, but please don’t say you w i l l and that you w i l l look at the flights and w i l l let them know. False hopes very often (especially when you reach the certain stage of cultural adjustment) change into a strong disappointment.
– Try to initiate contact, phone and internet work both ways. Fresh expats very often try to reach out to their friends and families in the home country because they need a contact with someone who understands them and will support them, they don’t want to lose these relationships only because they decided to live and work abroad. The challenge starts when and expat reaches out then and again and the initiative always seems to be on his side. Because he is the one who is lonely and needs to talk. People in the home country have their own life and are living it, meeting friends, going to work as they always did. Try to even this out 😉
I find that sending pictures/short films works quite well in these long-distance relationships as it seems more ‘real’. It’s good to just reach out now and again to talk even about really prosaic things you’ve done in a regular working day. This creates a better bond between people. Just try to speak to your close ones as much as you would normally do.
You only arrive for such a short period of time!
The things that I and my expat friends very often hear when we come to visit our families/friends in the home country is ‘you only arrive for such a short time!’. We know. And it’s as difficult for us as it is for you. The problem is – flights are not always cheap, holiday allowance is not unlimited, we can’t be in two places at the same time. That said, here are a couple of thoughts on how to make the stay more relaxed for both expat and their friends/family.
– Don’t reproach the expats for being home only for a week. That’s probably the only time they could actually come, they made an effort to use their holiday allowance to come and visit, they spent some money on flights and they made the journey (often not a short one). They wanted to meet with you, they will probably be running around this whole week to be able to meet with as many people as they can while they are home. They are doing their best to accommodate everyone’s needs. Let them leave from the family celebration an hour earlier so that they can meet with their best friend. Really. They will appreciate it.
– Enjoy the time as much as you can, use it to do something together. If you already have these couple of hours together and you meet in person (hurray!!) use this time to do something you can’t do online. Go skating together, or biking, just do some sports, make a barbecue, meet in a bigger group of people. Leave watching movies or pictures for when you’re miles away from each other. Try not to think that it’s only a couple of hours together. Try to enjoy as much time as you can. Like you would normally do. Remember, it’s as difficult for you as it is for the person who left to live abroad.
Agree to listen
The one that is probably the most annoying for the friends and family both in the home country and new ones met during emigration, confirmed by quite a couple of my expat friends – is the endless talking. Especially at the beginning, right after you move abroad. Expats tend to want to share all their new experiences, everything they find different, funny or weird. They are usually amazed or surprised or annoyed by many things – very much a mood swing. And that’s normal. That’s a standard way of living through a change. Especially when they feel a bit lonely at the beginning, you are very much needed!
The thing that is very helpful for the expats then is to let them talk it through. Let them share all these experiences. Let them be excited, surprised or angry. Try to be an empathetic listener. Once you do, there is a greater chance that after this venting you will be able to continue to a regular conversation, as you would normally do. If you don’t let them and will say things like ‘ you always talk about yourself’, ‘if it’s so bad there why did you go/leave me’, the relationship will be loosening more and more. Plus, surely you’d like to know how they are doing abroad, don’t you? This process makes it even easier for you as especially at the beginning an expat will usually be very eager to share even the smallest details.
This article is meant to show a different perspective for the people whose friends or families went to live and work abroad. All the above doesn’t mean that the expat doesn’t have to make any effort to understand your situation. When in doubt, the best solution is always to talk openly about our feelings – it always leads to some solutions!
Dear expats, is there anything else you would add to these advice for your friends and families?
Dear friends and families, is there anything especially worth acknowledging from your point of view that the expats should be aware of?