Acquaintances assume that my life is interesting due to the sole fact that I’m abroad. Thanks, Facebook and Instagram. Some even send me links asking rhetorical questions such as “Why have you not been to [insert city here] or done [insert activity in city X here] yet?” But close friends know that my life has gotten more complicated and difficult due to my decision to live abroad. I want to emphasize that I am aware that all of the hardships that resulted from this lifestyle were brought upon by me, since I consciously made this selfish decision.
I hate stating cliches yet sometimes there is no simpler way to put it. I have no regrets and there is an endless list of the merits of living/traveling abroad, which I have done/am doing. But that is for another day. I wanted to document some frustrations and sadness that have escalated within me lately. Luckily in this day and age it is relatively easy to find online support groups (I found “I Am A Triangle” on Facebook and UK/Yankee Forum very helpful recently!). Regardless, no one tells you about the intense isolation that comes with living abroad. Even if you are warned, isolation is still inevitable.
1. I know how “first world problems” this is going to sound yet this is a genuine concern for me. At this point in time I have acquired a pool of contacts so that I always have someone to talk to, even if it is for a quick blurb online. I keep my circle of friends (and even acquaintances) tight and know that for the most part, I can release an emotional vent to anyone and generally receive a supportive response, even if it isn’t exactly the response I was looking for.
So what is this “concern” that I have? I’ve realized that I only have two friends who I can talk about anything with; that is, not having to explain the circles of my past and present because they have also been teachers abroad, share other cultural backgrounds, and are expats themselves, to name a few similarities. It is soothing to launch into an unfiltered tirade about my life in the UK right now or a random memory from Korea because they are familiar with the contexts.
I am not saying I cannot trust my other friends to understand. It’s just that by the time I’ve explained the context to lay down the foundation of my story, I’ve either: a) forgotten the point or b) my anger/feelings dissipated. As much as I love interacting with my friends daily on social media and weekly on Hangouts, nothing beats an in-person catch up, which I crave so much. When I first got to Korea I looked longingly at my best friends hanging out with each other on Facebook, feeling left out, yet I knew there was no point. 1000000 miles separated us, for goodness sake! I am beyond that point now. It’s more of a feeling of….settling with what I’ve got. If I am angry or sad about something, I tell my closest friends, but I also share with my expat friends, who seem to be able to relate more. The realization of “They can’t understand because they haven’t been in my shoes” makes me sad that they will most likely never be in my shoes, because a lot of them have never even left their hometowns. I have created a series of complex problems for myself that only a handful of people can really offer advice and relate to.
2. This is a feeling that comes and goes yet every time I visit my family or friends and hear about hardships guilt sinks in. I am the one that chose to go to Argentina for seven months, to Korea to teach, to pursue a masters degree in the UK and to stay on afterwards. I had numerous chances to return home yet I actively opted not to. There are countless instances when I said “Let me know if you need anything” feebly, knowing that actions mean so much more. I wished I could show up to hold my friend’s hand, hug my parents, and bake cookies with my best friends. I send mail- but I want to do more….and can’t.
3. Another confusing aspect is the perception that those who travel have funds (savings, from parents/relatives, partners) or are wealthy. When I visited the US last I grabbed lunch with a college friend. She ordered a dish that was about 3 times the price as mine, yet she immediately asked for the bill to be split in half, with a 25% tip (gahd I do NOT miss this part about the US!). If I had a stable job, this would not be a problem and I understand that as adults, this is logically how it should be done among friends. No arguments there. But as my friend, I was disappointed that she did not realize that: a) I did not have a job, b) I saved up to see her, and c) eating out at that time was a large expense for me. I did not explain myself to her because there was no point. She has a lucrative career and we were simply in different stages in life. Yet I did not think that should be a reason to end a friendship.
I also bring back souvenirs for all the friends that I see, but I feel that it is largely unappreciated. Yes, I know that I chose to lead this life and not always being employed is a direct consequence of my decision. But when I visit I want to show my friends that I thought of them, even in the small form of a keychain; for them to know that although I could not afford to buy an amazing bottle of wine etc. that I was happy that they took time to see me and even host me in their homes. I guess it is a fine balance between looking cheap and trying to pay as little as possible.
In my years being abroad, I have received mail from many friends except for my closest friends. It is hard to sometimes think that I have to initiate contact on these things, because if I don’t, I might lose them.