You make friends fast when you’re an expat. You’re a little more receptive to differences and your boundaries for “normal” are forcibly expanded. Everyone becomes a potential friend. The people you’d form an opinion about back home are the ones who come through for you when you’re in a pinch.
I’ve lived abroad since 2001 (minus a two-year stint in Seattle). I was childless then, so my days were spent working and my nights drinking and dancing. My friends were my colleagues. We went to brunch on Christmas and out partying for New Year. Easter Friday was just another workday, and Thanksgiving was celebrated one year, but not necessarily the next.
Kids changed all that.
I’ve slowed down. “Drinking” is a glass of wine before bed. A night out means my husband and I try to be home for ten.
Friendships are harder to maintain–and make. You look for people who you can connect with quickly. No need for pretenses or apologies, they just get you. And if you find someone so rare as to understand you without needing to know your backstory, they become part of your kampong, your village.
In the twelve years I’ve lived abroad I’ve had friends, but this is the first time I’ve had a village–a group of women who care about you and your children, who will visit you when your youngest is in the hospital, cook for your family when someone back home passes away, or stop another kid from bullying yours at the playground.
When you find this, you know you are blessed. When you find this and you’re an expat, you know it won’t last. Someone will inevitably move away. But for that moment in time, you cherish that your children have an extended family. They have “cousins” who speak different languages, eat with different utensils, and have faith in different gods.
It’s hard to describe what brings together this mosaic collection of people. You learn not to think about next year–tomorrow is far enough. They help you see the beauty in differences and the necessity of faith even if you don’t share it. You explore together, you learn together, you cry and laugh together. You do things you’d never do back home. Your point-of-view shifts to the left (very seldom to the right) because you learn that perspective is in everything.
Since the beginning of civilization, we women have been the seams that unite a family and the ones responsible for the next generation of leaders and followers. We have dried each other’s tears, cheered one another forward, and held one another up until we were once again strong enough to stand on our own.
It feels intensely beautiful to be a part of a village that shrinks and expands with diversity and acceptance and love.