The Expat Dilemma: Building New or Keeping Old Relationships

tumblr_l94shbjaWY1qbovywo1_500_largeIn one of my recent posts, I discussed the cases of expats visiting home, missing the familiarity of it and trying to balance between the ‘new’ (even if temporary) and ‘old’ homes. Continuing on this topic of this double expat life, today I would like to focus on expats’ relationships, and more specifically, their friendships. A couple of years ago, I have written about expat friendships already, highlighting the dilemma of making new friends either with local people in the host country or other expats. However, coming back to the notion of a double expat life, we can also assume a double set of relationships, and thus define the dilemma as choosing between friends in the ‘new’ home and the ‘old’ home. In other words, should expats focus more on building new friendships in the destination country or maintaining old friendships back home?

I am putting it intentionally as a matter of either/or, as I believe that during the initial stages of expatriation the required investments into relationships are higher and the allocation of time and energy resources becomes very demanding.

Indeed, if we speak about creating a new friendship network in the host destination, I think we can all agree that it is a time and energy consuming process. ‘Making new friends is not that easy’ is one of the most common anecdotal expat experiences, isn’t it? To overcome this difficulty, as a recently arrived expat, you would be advised to communicate a lot, make some extra concessions of your free time to bond with people, join interest clubs and associations and so on. To put it simply, in order to make new friends in the host location you need to work on establishing and developing these relationships. Naturally, this takes time and energy.

Now, on the other hand, most probably there are friends back home, who expect their share of your attention too. Especially during the initial time of expatriation, your closest friends might want to catch up on a regular basis as they may feel excited about your move, curious about your new life, adventures and overall well-being. Most probably as an expat, you would also look for this contact to remain involved in your friends’ lives and feel the comfort of familiar relationships. As such, keeping in touch with friends from home is important, but as easy as the expression of ‘keep in touch’ might sound, in reality it also needs planning and investment of one’s time and energy.

Naturally, making this dilemma a purely either/or matter is an exaggeration. Both building new and maintaining old friendships are important for expatriates’ well-being and can be combined to an extent. Yet, the point I would like to make is that managing both processes equally well can be challenging and may pose extra demands upon the initial relocation. Moreover, this challenge seems to be rarely spoken about, which makes it even more unexpected and thus more difficult to cope with. For example, ‘old’ friends might feel left out and offended by the expat’s lack of time due to engaging in different activities with ‘new’ friends. On the more practical side, it might be even difficult just to find convenient time to skype, for instance due to time zone differences.

All in all, I believe that although the expat dilemma of balancing ‘new’ and ‘old’ friendships can only be partly solved, being prepared for the challenge, as well as managing one’s own and others’ expectations in terms of availability may be a good start for coping with this situation.

10 thoughts on “The Expat Dilemma: Building New or Keeping Old Relationships

  1. i think its not clear cut as either/or . with technology you can have a semblance of communication even with people who are far. look at how cheap you can make calls with skype, viber, whatsapp, line e.t.c

  2. I was relocated within Spain. At the beginning I could keep relationship with “old friends” at the same extent
    (for instance, travelling during the weekends) but in the end I had to create new friendships in the new place.
    I don’t think you can cope with both “old” and “new” at the same time and at the same level you were doing before.

  3. In the first year we were living overseas we were swamped with visitors from home excited to come and see where we lived. It was wonderful to have those familiar faces from home but we came to realize we were so busy playing host to our visitors it left no time for us to form friendship of our own here. A year and a half down and the visitors have slowed and we have made a real effort to make friends in our new home. It’s a real balancing act, I have found though many of our friends from home have dropped of the radar after the initial excitement of it all, out of sight out of mind. That has bought it’s own challenges but peoples lives are busy and it does take time to maintain a friendship.

  4. Well I’ve been an expat for 3 years and each time I come home, I feel my old friends are busier and busier. I understand how life works, but I also feel it takes two to maintain a friendship.

  5. Managing my friendships when I was local to them was not a problem and took very little effort. When I moved to a new state I found that most of my friends did not have the time or energy to invest in our friendship that was necessary to keep it going.

  6. creating a new friendship network in the host destination is a process of building networking can be useful when you reach reproductive age for doing business.

    create a new friendship network for your future progress

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