Throughout my recent series focused on balancing family and relationships with life abroad, the emphasis has been predominantly on actively being abroad. But what about your return?
The friendships and romantic relationships that develop during time spent living or studying abroad can be some of the most intense and lasting you’ll ever create. If you are both living away from your home country, you likely shared in the confusion of culture shock and wondered together at the beauty of . . . well, maybe everything. If the other person is from the country you’ve been living in, perhaps they’ve served as a cultural broker of sorts, helping you become comfortable in this new place. Maybe your bond was one that made you realize how at home you can feel abroad, and that many things can trump cultural differences.
Regardless of the details, if you met someone while living abroad, the unfortunate chances are you and that other person do not permanently live in the same place. This means that when your time abroad is over, if you want to maintain these relationships, you’re going to have to put in a fair amount of effort.
I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my life moving, living all over the US and in several countries, and to this day, as relatively settled as I am, some of my closest relationships are with the people I met abroad. While some of us have moved on and fallen out of touch, there are a others who I know I can always call upon to share in an adventure or giggle about a mishap or mourn a heartache. Though these relationships may not require the everyday work of folks who are local, they still require a special sort of attention, one that recognizes their flexibility and respects their history. Reflecting on my own experiences and those of friends who have lived abroad, I’ve identified three essentials for keeping these relationships going: keep in touch, meet-up/ travel together, and visit each other.
Keep in touch!
Ok, so the importance of keeping in touch is probably obvious. How else would you maintain a relationship? But with people who live far away, whether on the other side of your own state or separated by multiple oceans, continents, and time zones, keeping in touch can require some thought and even some planning. Everybody likes to keep in touch in different ways, but here are a few that are especially popular for keeping in touch internationally:
Video-chat is a great way to actually see each other, and by scheduling it, can feel more like a hangout session than a standard phone conversation. With Skype, Google Hangout, or any other video-chat program sometimes the distance falls away as you can suddenly see your friend in their once so-familiar home or see the face and gestures you once got to see so much more frequently.
WhatsApp is an example of another free and easy way to keep texting with your friends when they’re in another country. Download it as an app to your smart phone and whenever you’re in signal or wifi, text away! This is great if your friend doesn’t have the same device as you, such as with iPhones that allow for iMessage when both on wifi.
Social media lets you share in each other’s day-to-day without having to be available in “real time.” Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…all offer a means to see what your friends are reading, thinking, doing these days.
Good old-fashioned snail mail
While yes, using the post requires a little more effort than the click of a few keys and the swipe of a screen, the end result can never really go out of style. Written letters, postcards from current travels, even packages can be such a pleasant surprise to both put together, and receive–especially knowing that the piece of paper in hand once existed wherever your friend currently is!
Meet somewhere or travel together!
Odds are, if you deeply identified with someone while living or studying abroad, this person is also a fan of travel or at least wants to be. Since it can be difficult to prioritize travel ambitions (even if I don’t always want to admit it, I love collecting new stamps in my passport), why not combine a visit with an old friend with a trip to a new place? Not only can this be a fun way to catch up, since you were likely, to some extent, travel friends while you were abroad, you may already know how to travel well together. Plus, the new shared experiences will re-invigorate the friendship while seeing new sites.
Visit each other!
As tempting as it may be to only get together with your friends from abroad by continuing your travel adventures, there is also something special in visiting one another. This way, you get to share in each others’ everyday lives and important events, something that will make staying in touch more remotely that much easier. Besides, visits with friends you made abroad can offer travel treats of their own. After all, depending upon where your friend is from or where s/he landed, you may get to visit a new country, a new part of your home country, or return to the place you got to spend such a great part of your life!
That being said, it can be hard to maintain long-distance relationships. Just as with my previous articles, I have to expound upon the fact that the distance created by a transient lifestyle will not make things easy, especially as months or years can suddenly go by without having seen people you miss. While difficult though, the beauty of connection makes the effort well-worth it, be it through the internet, physical travel, or lengthy letters written by hand.