You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

Day 13: Something I left behind

I feel a bit introspective on this one.  The most obvious answer is that I left my family and my friends behind, both literally and figuratively.  That first plane ride out of your home country- the one you make not knowing exactly when you’re coming back- is terrifying.  It’s heart-wrenching and exciting and scary and overwhelming and just plain WOW-what-the-eff-am-I-doing-right-now-ing?  My departure for the Dominican Republic felt a bit like a movie moment- watching my house disappear around the corner as we drove off to the airport, sadly looking out the window (if only it had been raining!), wondering when I’d see the lovely highways of Georgia again.  Then hugging, crying, hugging, laughing, more crying at the airport.  Looking behind as I walked to my gate, waving until the last possible second, the last glimpses of my family for who knows how long.  As soon as I found my gate, I sat down and started texting friends who weren’t with me at the airport and even those who weren’t even out of the airport parking lot yet.

And since that life-altering moment, I’ve lost friends and I feel uncomfortable at family reunions.  At first, it was all so exciting- everyone wanted to know what it was like:  Where did I live?  Does everyone speak English?  My life in a foreign country was an adventure for everyone… for a while…  Then people started tuning me out- I could see it in their eyes.  They’d ask, but really, they didn’t remember what country I was living in or they didn’t even know where it was.  Family nodded and ‘uh huhed’ when I tried explaining what I did for fun on the weekends in Shanghai or what my first experience with Lebanese food was like- answers to questions they’d asked.  Friends told me tales of their day-to-days but forgot to ask about mine.  And I slowly got used to it.

There is a saying about living life as an international teacher:  Friends will listen to you talk about your life for about a minute before they tune you out.  Your real friends will listen for two minutes.

See you later, alligator…

It’s just life, but my family and friends can’t relate anymore.  They don’t know (most) of the people I’m talking about.  They can’t visualize the school where I work or the home where I live.  They have no connection to the country I’m describing, so they don’t really listen.  They can’t really care.  I left them behind to go on this adventure.

My life is like an endless slide show from Uncle Morty’s trip to Mt. Rushmore- all 763 slides- that no one wants to see.

This is not a self-pitying post, nor do I blame anyone for their lack of connection to my life.  It is my life after all and I’m living it with three of the people that I love the most in the world (and two furbabies).  It’s just the nature of the beast. 

It’s funny, I was actually going to write about leaving behind my crippling fear of change- the family/friends thing was meant to be the introduction.  I love not knowing where my writing will take me sometimes!

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14 thoughts on “You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

  1. I know just what you mean. And when I try to talk to people back home about it, they think I'm blaming them for losing touch or whatever. That's not what I mean. I'm just trying to get them to see things from my point of view. But perhaps the only people who CAN see it from my point of view are fellow expats.

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  2. Delightful, Kel and completely true. I do so love this post–and I concur completely on the slideshow analogy–even chuckled aloud when I read it :). I can't imagine why anyone DOESN'T want to spend a whole DAY in Target just wandering around and looking at all the new stuff I've missed since I've been gone…..and when I say “I need to go to Target” and people say “Oh, okay, so you need like…an hour?” and I laugh, knowingly…..
    For this reason, we have this blog. Good call yet again, Cristin :).

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  3. I have felt this way many times, but then a friend will call and we'll talk for two hours or I get a really sweet and unexpected email of Facebook message, and I question if it's true for me. The connections have definitely changed, but I can't say they have entirely broken though it is certainly much harder to maintain them. Still, I understand those feelings of isolation. Do you have friends in Bahrain?

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  4. Excellent post—you have expressed very well one of the dilemmas of the expat life. Those we have left behind simply can't relate, no matter how much they might want to, at least to a significant part of our lives. This is one reason I'm hoping we can make some connections with other people who have lived the expat life when we settled back in North America.

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  5. You took the words right out of my mouth. Although I find I do have some friends who truly make the effort and want to know what my life is like. But that has definitely dwindled to a few. I just struggle with the fact that they still want me to be really interested in their life…but it's not as reciprocal. But, like you said, it's a choice we made in doing this.

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  6. It takes more work to maintain them, I think. I've only lost the friends who wouldn't really survive a move, no matter how small. My best friends are still my best friends and we all work to stay in each others lives.

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  7. Totally understand where you're coming from. It seems like the expat life can make your world so much smaller in a sense, that friends and acquaintances view you as out of sight out of mind and friendships you thought would go the distance fizzle out. I've written about friendship several times on my blog and can't say it's gotten any easier since those posts. I just found out one of my closest friends is 5 mos pregnant and didn't even tell me. ;-( Stung hard.

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  8. Yep, I know what you mean. It's sad but I guess the flip side of losing some of those friends is that I've met some really incredible new ones. And who's to say the friendships would've lasted if we'd stayed around anyway. I hate missing babies and birthday parties and holidays but the friends who love us the most will always be there. And I totally know the what-you're-pregnant thing, too. It is sad 😦

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