It’s so hard moving to a new place; infiltrating the cliques, trying to work out who is your type of person and putting yourself out there, which often equals unreciprocated invites and standing awkwardly alone at parties. In expat land its doubly hard because there’s a whole extra layer of consideration that is given before the hand of friendship is extended, and that is ‘how long are you here’ factor.
Where I grew up in Saudi Arabia the school only ran until 9th grade (about 15 years old) and after that the whole school year disbanded and flew all over the world to wherever parents had planned for them next; mostly boarding school, back home or off to a new country. In fact the only thing we had in common was that no one stayed. Graduation was the most heart-breaking night of my life, the night I said goodbye to every single one of my friends, forever.
So I do understand that logic that says I’m not going to invest my time in you if you are going to bugger off after a few years… hell I’m guilty of it myself.
When you go to a social engagement in Karen you are immediately asked where are you from and what do you do. This allows a person to determine if you are here for the long run or not. Great answers would be ‘I’ve just bought a little plot of land’ or ‘I’ve just opened up my own business’. Bad ones are ‘we are here with the forces’, ‘ I’m just here on a temporary contact with my company’, give one of the latter answers and it’s not unusual to see a persons eyes glaze over s they quickly move on to find the familiar and comforting conversation of someone they’ve known for years. Its not even just the adults; the other day someone told me that his son didn’t want to become too close friends with some army kids as they come on rotation and they will be moving away in 18 months. It might be painful for those parties on all sides, not allowing a potential relationship to flourish, but it’s all 100% reasonable and understandable, after all its human nature to protect ourselves from hurt.
However, it makes it a pretty damn lonely place for that temporary expat, who as a result it’s often band together, forming their own little group. Much like my situation in Saudi, everyone is aware that D-day is coming and they will eventually move on, but with an ebullient Carpe Diem attitude they make the best of the short time they have.
We are in a fairly unique situation in that we have a 5-year contract, and a chance to extend. Recently, we’ve been more vocal about the FIVE year contract; declaring loudly that we aren’t just here for the short term. I’m unsure whether or not its a result of this but we’ve made great friends in both camps; some that have lived here all their lives and some that are here for just a little bit.
Pondering the cliques and friendships that exist within our tiny Karen population, I wonder how much richness and how many experiences are the long timers passing up, by passing on those passers-by… and how much better would the experience of living somewhere for a short time be if one could become closer to those people who know their country best. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting myself out there and hoping for friendships that last the rest of my life time, even if they form with people I’ll bond with for only a few years. After all my nomadic soul can’t ever imagine staying in one place forever.