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How Living Abroad Redefines Friendship

I think most people who have lived abroad for many years would say that they are not the same person they were when they left their comfort zone. It is not just about getting all those stamps in your passport and seeing places most people would never get to see in their lifetime – let alone hear of (but that certainly is a bonus most of us would not want to miss).

Living abroad is more than that. This journey and adventure of living in cultures so different from what you were once used to changes you from the inside out as a person, your personality and your perceptions of life.

With this wonderful life-changing experience of living abroad, you will also encounter some “struggles” or changes upon returning to “reality”.

Reverse-Culture Shock

Reconnecting with family and friends back at home is a bigger struggle than most people might be aware of. Coming back and visiting your loved ones is great and exciting – especially the first few days. Everyone wants to know about your life overseas, your travels, people you meet, see pictures, you name it! But as soon as that first excitement is over, everything goes back to “normal” - you somehow have to reintegrate yourself back into a society and culture you left. That’s not easy!

Why? Because your views and experiences you have gained while living abroad have changed you as a person and changed how you see and perceive the society you once came from and now have to adjust to again. It does not mean that you look down on or suddenly judge your own culture, but the way you live your life, the way you see things, behave, is not the way the rest of your culture, family or friends do.

This is just the big picture. Simple things, such as your preference for food, how you eat it, how you like to add some spice to it have changed and you may not be able to eat certain foods you once ate. And that is not something you are doing intentionally, right?

A term often used to describe the difficulties people face upon returning ‘home’ is “Reverse-Culture Shock”. More than often it can lead to depression and often results in wanting to leave again and never really feeling “at home”. Therefore, it is especially important for those going home to be aware of what to expect and to prepare themselves as much as possible, but also to let family and friends back at home know to give you time to adjust and to get used to life again – at least as much as they can and understand.

New Set of Friends

Of course, many of us have those friends we always stay in touch with and where nothing changes even if we do not see each other for several years. However, it may well happen that your circle of friends changes. It is not that you do not want to stay in touch with your old friends or ‘unfriend’ them, but it often so happens that you tend to have more new friends who have also spent some time abroad or are even those friends you made while living abroad.

Why? Simply because you can share the same experiences, relate to things that your old friends would not necessarily understand, talk about things from a whole different perspective as they share the familiarity of seeing things in a different light.

Again, no judging here – it does not mean you do not love your old friends anymore – it can just be difficult to keep that connection going and you may not be able to share as much with them as with those that share the same experiences. And by that I mean actually living abroad and not just going on a 2-week holiday or just backpacking for a couple of weeks through South-East Asia…

Your Idea of Friendship Changes

When moving abroad and leaving your friends and family behind it can seem quite daunting as they were everything you once had – they were your life. You are not going to see them anymore and you will have to make new friends.

When living abroad for a long time, your definition of friendship changes. You see friends come and go as time passes. Some people might just stay for a few months and others for a couple of years, but most of them all end up returning home or carrying on with their travels and moving on to other countries. Many of them you might not see again, with some you will keep in touch and with others you will develop very intense friendships in a short time on a level you have never experienced before - simply because you share so much in common with living in a foreign country.

But at the same time, you also value your friends and family back at home a whole lot more than you used to. When you go back, you really want to make it a point to see everyone who was dear to you and get upset when you suddenly realise that your friends have kind of carried on with their own lives and got used to the fact that you are not around. They might not make as big as a fuss of really having to meet you up. It is striking and can feel like a slap in the face, but really, it is not intentional or malicious. People just got used to you being away, the crazy one travelling, not being responsible and building up a secure and stable life and worrying about pension. It is not that these things are not important, but that might be the reputation you might have gained among your friends and it emphasizes how you have taken different paths.

Being abroad you will have moments, days, weeks or months even where you really miss those you used to have around you, and you will get homesick but for those who are at home, well, life goes on.

It can be a challenge – especially when missing out on important events like weddings, the arrival of new nieces and nephews, baptisms and funerals. It will be those moments that you wish you could be back home and ask yourself why you took it upon yourself to live abroad and take a different path in life.

However, always keep in mind, that the experiences you will have gained during your time overseas are something no one can take away from you, nothing you would of ever been able to experience if not leaving your comfort zone, thus changing you into a "new" person, enriching your worldview and being maybe more skilled to thinking outside the box. Yes, there are always two sides to every coin, but I can promise from my own experience that it is all worth it!

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