The Good Ones Go: Expat Loss

by farrah on March 25, 2015 · 8 comments

I was talking recently to one of my friends and we got on the subject of people leaving. Leaving in the sense of when you’re an expat you’re bound to leave sooner or later- and/or people will leave you. People being the friends that you make while on your assignment who are just as transient as you are.

annAnn & I in Athens

It’s different from when YOU leave ‘home’ or wherever your location of origination might be. At least in my experience, leaving the US wasn’t much different from when I left wherever I was, or moved around the States. Friends I had moved, we moved, it happens. But- for the most part those friends I’ve had for a long time. Long enough to where I knew them before husbands, wives and kids. They’re still there in my mind and my heart as friends and I know they always will be. Thus there’s a big difference with this feeling of when they go. ‘They’ being these friends you make while living abroad who suddenly one day up and disappear from your life in a poof of airplane exhaust.

A couple of my own examples lie with two families in Germany. We only physically visited a couple of times, but Elizabeth’s family is special to me. They lived in Bamberg, Germany and invited us to visit them early on in our stay over here. It was one of our first trips (if not the first trip) that we took together and I enjoyed watching their girls (older than my boys) drink in the life of Europe as pre-teens. I thought about what it would have been like to BE them growing up- when all I ever wanted once I met a French foreign exchange student in elementary school was to also have that experience. They were living it.

My other friend who left is Ann. Ann left without much warning. Well, a few months, but it was still somewhat of a shock that she was going to go. Ann and I went to England together. We went to Düsseldorf and had a high tea. We lived fairly close as she was in Essen, Germany and spent our second Fourth of July together doing American stuff like barbecuing in our back yard. I miss her, and miss planning and plotting excursions. The last time I saw her was when we partnered up with SJ from Croatia and shared an apartment in Athens. We had so much fun staying up far too late laughing and drinking much too much wine.

I still can’t really believe that she’s gone and back in the US. It’s confusing because we’d both be up in the mornings at the same time messaging and talking back and forth about this or that while our kids were at school. She was around when the majority of people we knew were still asleep in the US. I talk to her now and she’s adjusting to life back home- and also feel like I’m watching myself and what the experience will be like moving back for me. It’s kind of weird to look into a crystal ball like that.

The funny thing though about losing people- is that chances are someone else arrives. My friend Megan came from the US right before Ann left. Now she’s here and we talk travel and other chit-chat while the rest of the world sleeps. But Megan doesn’t replace Ann or Elizabeth. It’s a totally different sense of friendship and loss. Megan was saying that when she lived in Moscow she experienced this- but it was at a different time in her life. Things aren’t as permanent in your 20s. Loss is a part of it. I think we can all agree with that.

morocMegan, K and Ace in Morocco.

I was thinking the other day how weird it would be if Ace left. We arrived here at the same time, and she’s only a few minutes away. I don’t see her daily, but I know she’s there. We travel together, get our boys together, and make plans. We share birthday parties and because we’ve been here together from the start it’s like she’s part of this package. I can’t think about her leaving, and thankfully she doesn’t plan on it any time soon.

Then there’s my friend K up in Ireland. She moved from the States a year or two before we moved. I’ve been up to see her once, and she’s been down here to see us. She was part of the Moroccan Mamas tour and will be coming to stay in Oisterwijk this summer. Their family is important to mine. She’s been a friend for a long time, and yet- living on this side of the world together has brought us closer.

I’ve never really sat down and thought about the people who I have become friends with here. I met a woman who is from the UK and lives on our old street! We have plans for dinner on Saturday night and I know it’s going to be a good time. But what about when I leave? How will we do that if we’ve only known each other a short time? Where will she be? Where will I be?

Then I think about the friends I’ve made who are local to Oisterwijk and the Netherlands. I’ve become very close to a mom at school and my boys play with her son at least twice a week. I feel that we’re good friends but I can’t see into the future as to how things shake out once this is over. I know it will never be the same, as I don’t foresee us coming back. I wish I did, but I don’t see how it’s possible. Even with the desire to take another assignment somewhere, someday, who knows where it will be?

I don’t like to think about it. I’m sure there are profound expat essays out there on the Internet that can eloquently put into words this feeling of transience and loss, but that’s not for me right now. I simply have to live every single day like this is the last day- which in truth can put a lot of pressure on someone. But we all do it. I do it even with the boys- thinking how this is the best time of our lives- when they’re little and I am the center of their universe and their favorite leading lady. I mean, this can’t go on forever.

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.  Is that the truth?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen March 25, 2015 at 12:06 pm

This was so hard for me at 22, I was virtually alone in a foreign country and my best friends were just leaving all the time, I hated it. I’d forgotten what it was like by the time we moved to Houston two years ago, but so many people here are like virtual expats, they are mostly Americans but they are bouncing around the country constantly because of their jobs. When my two closest friends left within days of each other last summer it broke my heart. One of them I spent almost every day with, the other I saw almost every weekend, I still miss them both terribly. Now I’m trying to make sure everyone I befriend is a local who is staying put!


2 farrah March 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm

I am pretty sure there are a bunch of Shell expats here from Houston. Any chance you guys could come back with them? 🙂 But yes- this is a rather strange feeling. I remember when my brother’s best friend left for 2 years when they were little, and then returned. The whole thing felt surreal.


3 Jen March 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

That’s very possible, there are people from all over the place here. I wish I could join them too! My kids are also dealing with it too now, it’s not unusual at all to have my oldest come home and say xxx is off to Australia for a year. It would have been big news back in the Illinois suburbs.


4 Molley@Amotherlife March 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Being an Expat is different for me. I don’t have many other expat friends. Well not in my time zone…. There’s always you 😉


5 farrah March 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm

I am always around 🙂 It’s funny to watch you navigate the waters where I’m from. At least you speak English!


6 Ann March 25, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Aw! I can’t wait to be on the same continent so that we can travel again.

It’s funny because, for me, I still get up and message you. But for you it’s the afternoon. Nothing’s changed on my end except my endless observations are on my “own” culture instead of the foreign one. I appreciate you listening to me even more now than I did before.


7 farrah March 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

Yeah, it’s funny because the timing is totally different for me- I’m not mentally in the same frame of mind. I don’t think I give you enough focus like I used to be able to do- you know? But I am glad that you know you can still message me. And hopefully you get over here before we pass each other going the other way!


8 Elizabeth March 25, 2015 at 9:15 pm

Thanks for including me in this! It is crazy to think that we lived so close together in SC for so long, yet it took moving thousands of miles away for us to meet and become friends. I do know what you mean about people coming and going. Because we were only in Germany for two years (did those two years really happen or was it just a dream? Yeah, it’s gotten to that point), we didn’t have anyone close to us leave. I think it has been the hardest for AK. A really good friend from her school in Germany has pretty much dropped her. She never returns calls or texts anymore. She is American and they moved to Germany a year ahead of us. I tried to explain to AK that it really doesn’t have anything to do with her. AK and another friend in their group left within a few months of each other. Then, another two friends moved about four or five months after us (about the time the contact stopped). I tried to help AK see that it is really about how this girl is dealing with loss. It’s not that she doesn’t like AK anymore, it’s probably more likely that she loves AK as much as AK loves her. But, her 12 year old heart has a need to protect itself. It’s easier to deal with just not talking to people than it is to constantly be reminded that you’ve loved and lost.


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