I think of the boat distressed at sea trying to find help. I think of the airplane pilot distressed in the air trying to find help. I think of the person alone in the forest that is looking for some human contact for help...
“Hello! Anybody out there!?”
In my expat living I would say I have hit these times. Feeling alone, maybe even lost, in the midst of a big vast sea of water or a vast forest of trees and wild animals. Desiring connection. Desiring communication. So, what can lead to these times and what can help when these times come?
First, before I go any farther, I would like to say…I am so thankful for this day and time where technology has paved a huge bridge for communication over the miles! I think of those who set out on this adventure of expat living before technology was this advanced. No social media. No Skype. No emails. Wow! My hat is off to those who lived in another nation in those days!
So, then even in this day and time with advanced technology, what can lead to this call for help…"is anybody out there!?” Distance and disconnection.
How does distance happen? I can talk about this from my experience and viewpoint. I see distance happening in various ways. Of course, by miles. Living on the other side of the world or maybe just the other side of town presents a distance. With physical distance, it takes more effort to stay involved in each other’s lives. We don’t shop the same stores. We don’t go to the same restaurants. We don’t hear the same local news. We can’t just visit each other face to face at the drop of a hat. And the list could go on and on. Effort is the key word here. The more physical distance the more effort it takes to bridge the miles.
Distance develops not only due to physical miles apart, but distance also happens on a social and emotional level. We begin to hang out with different people. We don’t share the same interests anymore. We don’t share our day to day or week to week life stories anymore. We become absorbed in what is in front of us and have little time or energy for anything outside of our immediate sphere. When one side of the relationship begins to lose its grip and drift away, the other side may find it too difficult to hang on because there is no reciprocal effort or help. So then both sides let go and drift away physically, socially, and emotionally. This drifting signifies a disconnect has happened.
Is this inevitable? I have had to consider this question with my expat life since 2014. I have been so aware of living in one place but needing a bridge that keeps me connected to others who don’t share this expat life with me. I have learned to consider a new type of grip or hold on my relationships. Let me explain: I can join with someone by holding hands, but this is not the strongest hold. If one of us relaxes our hold, the other automatically loses their grip also. When I think of the grip, I think of the game Red Rover. Do you remember that game? In this game there are two teams. Each team lines up across from each other (some distance away) and holds their team members hands to form a straight line. But the best way to connect is by grabbing at the wrist/upper arm area. Then when the chosen person of the other team comes running over, the wrist/upper arm grip makes it harder for the person to break the union between the two people joined together.
So…as I think on disconnect as an expat, I say, NO, it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. We can all learn the stronger grip. The grip that can hang on even when the other relaxes their hold for some reason. The grip that can resist the pressure of miles, etc.
Hold on to your relationships. Choose to connect and not disconnect. Use the tools we have with technology (overcome your fear with this) and be creative. You may have to be the one who holds on, but it is worth it! You will be an example to others how to do it. You may want to relax your grip…DON’T…don’t give up. Dig in. Make the effort. Show love at a higher level. Don’t grow weary. There will come a time that each of you will need each other and the friendship you give to one another.
A reminder of one of my many special friends who stays connected with me over the miles.
This seemed to be a good time to highlight expat living…living in a nation that is not your own (not your home or birth nation).
For me, Vietnam is my heart nation, but at the same time, it is not my home nation.
As one expat friend said, once you go to another nation, your worldview (how you view the world and yourself in that world) changes. So, yes, living overseas for the past 7½ years has definitely changed me. When I come back to the States for a visit, it always takes me a bit to readjust. And I have realized that sometimes you just have to learn to live life feeling a little bit like a “fish out of water”.
What I want to highlight in this blog is the coming and the going…and especially the going…of expats. Expats usually tend to live in a nation for short term stints (under a year to 2 years) or long term stints (10 to 20 years or more). You live with the reality that there will come a time that an expat friend will leave. Also, because the expat life tends to be back and forth between here and there (the current nation of residence and the home nation) there can be a lot of extended travel with different life situations. As an expat, you do have to learn to live with some uncertainty. You have to learn to live loosely…having roots but also knowing how to uproot, at times uprooting often. In my experience, the most odd and difficult feeling to cope with is the sense of grief as you see friends leaving. At these times, a season is closing for them and a new season is opening, but in a new place. So the friendship is something that is in flux. You may have enjoyed weekly gatherings of fellowship together over the past 1, 2, or more years, and then it changes. They move on…not just to another town, but to another nation. I wouldn’t say this is bad, I would just say it is different. It requires adjustments in your own self.
I have also learned in this age of technology “connection” can be defined and accomplished in ways that those in the past never imagined. We just came through a period where Zoom and such apps have opened a whole new world of connection to use across the globe! We do have to be intentional to learn it and to use it. We do have to see a different way…re-adjust our worldview yet again. But the opportunities on the other side of that adjustment can be phenomenal.
One last bit of learning for me…I don’t say “good-bye”, I say “see you later” or “see you again”. I do believe in an eternal connection that I share with my friends. They may not be in my current location and my present weekly activities, but at the same time I do believe they are in my future. We have been connected for eternity. And at times our thoughts will turn to each other. We might think for no apparent reason…but these are good times to remember them with love and shower them with prayers and blessings.
Cheers to expat life! And learning to thrive in change.
When you are greeted with “Welcome” are some of these the responses you find rising up in you? The feeling of being accepted, embraced, received with gladness or delight?
Living in a nation that is not your own accentuates the inner need for feeling this “Welcome.” You are away from family and things that are familiar. Rejection, or just feeling on the outside of things, can be so easy to experience. You are an “outsider” to the culture and customs. You are the “outsider” to the language (even if you know it well, it’s not your mother tongue). You are the “outsider” to the history. You can’t depend on your “natural” responses to be the correct responses because this nation is not your norm. Their culture is not your norm. In this situation, there is a need to learn to feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.
So when there is this sense of WELCOME, that can be HUGE in the life of an expat.
Why are you welcome? I have found it is not so much because there is absolute agreement on things or that you do everything right within the cultural context. No, the WELCOME comes as a gesture of kindness. It comes with compassion. It comes in spite of the differences and challenges. It comes because we are human, and each life is valued and honored. It comes because we each need community. We need love and acceptance.
And then, when this WELCOME has been given to us. We need to stop and be aware of the valuable gift that has been given to us. We have been gladly received into someone’s presence, home, or group. We have not only been permitted and admitted, we have been willingly embraced by another. Cherish the gift that has been given to you…then give it forward to another.
Cindy writes about her adventures, observations, and other nuggets from living in another nation. She and John live in SE Asia. She will also share nuggets from her 58 plus years of life.