An insider’s guide for long distance BFFs

long distance BFFs

When I was growing up my step-dad always told me that when I was all old and grey and looking back on my life, I’d be able to count my true friends on one hand. When I was younger I took this a quantity thing. Now that I’m older—and see he’s right—I realize that he was talking about quality. Many friendships have a natural ebb and flow. However, when the stars align and give you that person who practically shares your DNA, you hold on for dear life.

During my last visit to San Diego, I was talking with one of my two besties about how similar lifelong friendships are to a marriage. Like marriage, friendships require forgiveness and compassion. Like marriage, over time you learn both the beautiful and not-so-beautiful parts of someone’s heart. And like with any close relationship, distance makes things hard.

But just because you’re living on the other side of the globe as your BFF doesn’t mean you’ll lose that closeness. It takes more work, sure, but there’s also a special pride that comes from persevering against the difficulties of distance. Keep reading for a few ways to work around the struggles unique to expats and their long distance BFFs.

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Keeping an open heart

keeping an open heart

A couple of weeks ago I watched one of my friend’s daughters on a playground. She bent her knees to her chest and swung across the monkey bars like it was no big deal. It made me wonder when I stopped being able to move around like that.

When you’re little, your bones are still busy fusing together and your ligaments are elastic. But soon, when sedentary moments start to outweigh the active ones, things tighten and settle into place.

Can’t the same be said about our hearts? When we’re young everyone is a potential friend. It’s easy to marvel and fresh starts are effortless. But little by little, we stop flexing those muscles and settle into our established communities and routines and work. And just like that, our malleable hearts become calcified boxes.

Expat life is a crash course in keeping your heart muscles limber. Being outside of your comfort zone, pulling up your roots every couple of years, and popping in and out of multiple lives will make sure of that.

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The truth behind an expat’s social media.

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So you’re at work, tapping away at your keyboard and—taking a minute to let your mind wander—you innocently scroll through Instagram or FaceBook.

Ugh, again? There’s so-and-so, hiking some far-flung mountain, cheers-ing in front of a tropical sunset, or arms akimbo with some group of laughing weirdos. Cue rolling eyeballs and a silent promise to unfriend/unfollow/un-whatever at the next gratuitous display of glorious life-abroad fun.

Well, thank goodness you stumbled upon this article because there are so many myths to dispel when it comes to the ‘glamourous’ life we expats lead. You can make anything look good from the outside and when it comes down to it, expats are just as good as everyone else at curating a perfect life on social media.

Of course, white sand beaches look amazing from a cubicle, but let’s take a moment and pull back the curtain on a lifestyle that is so often idealized, to see that the grass isn’t always greener. Below are a few ideas at what’s happening behind the scenes of those perfectly cropped and captioned photos.

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Reverse culture shock is a thing.

El Dorado Bar San Diego
El Dorado was our spot for the last couple years we lived in San Diego and is always on the top of our list on trips back. Thankfully, it’s only changed a little bit.

I never expected to experience culture shock and I certainly didn’t anticipate the reverse. How could I have a hard time visiting the U.S.? That’s basically being a stranger in your own home. But it happens every time: I can’t decide what to eat because I’m overwhelmed with options, I can’t quite remember where things are, something I’ve built up in my head has changed or closed or wasn’t very good. Spend enough time outside your home country and a short return visit will feel foreign as well.

It’s particularly strange when I visit San Diego because that’s the place I considered my home. I have family and friends there, it’s where I got married and settled into ‘real life.’ Facing the ways your former home has changed can be daunting, and there’s always a sepia tone that creeps in somewhere (I’ve written before about the dangers of going back too soon).

I spent a week in southern California towards the end of February and decided to put into words the foggy feelings that come along with regularly moving between two worlds. Below are a few of the things I’ve come to expect when visiting my former home.

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Recommended Read: Knocked Up Abroad

Knocked up Abroad - Lisa Ferland

Mother’s Day is just a quick three months away and here just in time is Knocked Up Abroad—an anthology of 23 stories, each giving you a glimpse of all stages of gestation from the viewpoint of parents all over the world. The one thing tying them all together? Each story is from a family navigating pregnancy and birth outside their home culture.

Knocked up Abroad isn’t just for pregnant expats, it’s a book for anyone wading through life in a foreign country, with an intercultural marriage, or who loves travel. There is a thread of universal truth to be found in each of these personal stories.

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The lies you tell yourself before moving abroad

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When I tell people I live abroad, I know exactly what’s coming: a whimsical look in their eyes, a sigh, and something along the lines of oh that must be so nice…

I can’t deny that—our time living in Colombia has been incredible. But, it’s been a lot of other things too. Most people form their romanticized ideas of life abroad from pop culture and movies, where after you’re run off the road riding your bicycle in Ubud, Javier Bardem stops to rescue you and you tumble into mad, passionate, ’til-death-do-us-part love.

I drank the living abroad kool-aid too, thinking life in Bogotá would be an endless loop of idyllic experiences: days full of museums, coffee in quiet cafes, roaming outdoor markets. Even disasters—and they were always mild—would end up as quirky stories of how I made new friends or had some authentic (what does that even mean?) experience. I had no problem imagining us happy in our new life but, like all good daydreams, I skipped over the kinks to get right to the good part.

Read on for some of the lies I told myself before moving abroad.

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Expat advice: Remembering how to make friends

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thanks to Spanish class, I made some new buddies

The strangeness of making new friends is what I set out to write about earlier in the week (before I was overcome by emotional navel-gazing) and has been second in difficulty only to the weepy goodbyes said to those people I mentioned on Thursday.

As a classic introvert, moving to a new country and making friends from scratch was already a bleak prospect. After factoring in the language barrier and some cultural differences, I was looking into an abyss. I mean, can you even remember the last time that you—as an adult—made a friend? And I’m not talking about that time you were at a party and scored an invite to a group lunch, all the while nestled in the comfort of your own social circle.

In your home country, it’s easy to take for granted how your already established relationships form a kind of safety net: they provide a place for you to meet new people and should you have a social swing-and-a-miss, you already have friends and so it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. When your support system tally is one (because I have a spouse), every new interaction is imbued with pressure. A few weeks ago my friend Cherise and I were laughing at all the thoughts that whirl us into anxiety as we put ourselves out there: Am I coming on too strong? Do I sound stupid? Was that joke dumb? I was telling her how it gets easier, which is kind of true…I mean, I still feel awkward and uncomfortable, but now I’m used to it!

In all seriousness, I completely believe that making friends is like any other skill and if you keep at it, it will eventually feel more natural. If you’re looking for some more practical steps or ideas about where to meet people, go back to this post about overcoming culture shock. For me, however, the whole process of making friends started in my head. Keep scrolling for a couple of the roadblocks I had to overcome in order to get my social groove back.

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Keeping friendships after you move abroad

Believe it or not, it was almost ten years ago that fear of missing out (FOMO)—that yucky feeling of general discontentment now plaguing first-worlders of all ages—was the buzzword du jour. After a quick stop in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I’d like to add another FOMO to the list: the fear of moving on. I’m talking about friendships and more specifically, my friends moving on from me.

Friendship is strange, in the way that it’s the only relationship in our adult lives free of obligation. You don’t have to be friends with someone and can move into and out of them at will. Ok marriages are like this too, but there’s more paperwork.

When a friendship is based on convenience or a similar life stage, it’s understandable that when you move away that balance is shifted and you may no longer fit in each other’s lives. In the past, I’ve kind of celebrated this fact because it provides a natural petering off of friendships that were past their prime. But how do you stretch and change to carry your lifelong friendships through something major, like moving abroad?

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Dealing with Distance

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I’m practically through our second summer as expats and am wondering if this season will ever be easy for me.  I’ve mentioned to Cody several times recently how much I miss the heat and sun of San Diego—it still feels strange to look at the calendar and know that it’s August, but to be wearing sweaters, pants, and closed-toe shoes.  In the sixteen weeks between May and August, we’ve had eight three day weekends due to various holidays.  It doesn’t matter, I am still jealous anytime I see someone post a photo in a tank top.  I feel like a real turd saying that, because on the other hand this has been such an incredible experience and I am so appreciative of our life and the positive changes it’s brought us.

Apparently, there is just really something about the California summer that has it’s hooks in me…it just seems like there are fewer responsibilities, everyone is warm and relaxed, and where in a few months there will be pressure to see everyone and find the money for flights and gifts, there are only casual get togethers where the whole point is simply enjoying each other’s company.  I genuinely believe that physical proximity isn’t a requirement to love people and have close relationships, but there is something about this season especially when I feel the physical distance pressing on me.  It doesn’t stem from a fear of missing out, but more of wanting the familiar summertime routine and to share it with people who are important to me.

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Summer…otherwise known as the expat exodus 

Last night I went to a little farewell dinner for a gal to whom I’ve become quite attached.  When I met her and we clicked, I felt this ray of hope that I’d found a friend in Bogotá.  But then I found out she’d be moving in less than a year, which was just enough time for me to really get to know and like her!  For some reason I thought saying goodbye to our family and friends as we left San Diego would be it…but I’m getting the feeling that the expat life is one of continual goodbyes.

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