Tomorrow, I will have been back in Albuquerque for four weeks. Seems like yesterday. Seems like a hundred years.
I want to write, but darned if I know what to write about. Do you want to hear about my comparison of bread and cookies? Would you rather hear about how everywhere I turn here something reminds me of Phillip? Can I whine about how miserably hot it is? If I did, would you sympathize with me or tell me to suck it up? ¡Aguanta no mas!
Dare I mention the crazy political climate that makes my stomach churn and leaves me feeling choice-less, voiceless, hopeless, and helpless?
What about how hard it is to make new friends when you’re a returning expat? Write what you know, they say, so here goes. I think I have to start by turning the question around.
Why is it easier to make friends when you’re an expat? If you asked ten people, you’d probably get ten different answers, but here are my top five:
- Expats are all in the same boat. Like being away at camp or college for the first time, you’re away from friends, family, and your “normal” environment and routine. You’re out of your comfort zone and you’re starting from zero, and so is everyone else.
- Expats tend to be adventurous. You’ve made it to a foreign country. You’re not afraid. Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.
- Expats tend to be gregarious. “No man is an island”* and neither are you. You seek out new acquaintances and experiences.
- Expats tend to be more inclusive. Back home, your circle of friends was more homogenous. Simply because being an expat is your common bond, you’re hanging out with people who are older or younger, whose mother tongue is not your own, who see the world through a different set of eyes than you. You discover that you enjoy diversity.
- Expats are often “temporary.” You expect to be there one year. Two years? Five? You don’t have the luxury of dawdling around when making friends. You bond quickly, before one of you is off to the next best place.
But what about when you “repat”? Why is making friends so hard when you return to your passport country?
- Because, while you’ve been away, people have moved on with their lives. They have their own routines and circles of friends which don’t include you.
- Because most people don’t make friends outside their “tribe.” As an expat, some of my best friends were 30-somethings. Back “home,” most 30-year olds are not interested in hanging out with someone who’s old enough to be their mother.
- Because most people don’t “get you.” They don’t have your wanderlust and they don’t understand it. It frightens them a little.
- Because you don’t have as much in common with your “fellow (insert passport country here)” as you used to.
- Because you are now changed and you can’t unchange yourself back into the person you were before. And why would you want to?
I am changed. I am different. My tribe and my outlook are now broader. If that means making new friends in my old place is more complicated, so be it.
*from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne