Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 2: Keeping in touch with people at home

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I decided to push back the post I had planned for Part 2 of this series to next week because I got quite a bit of feedback on last week's post, Ex Pat Life Series Part 1:Why don't people reach out to me?, and felt like I should respond.

I want to clarify that my post was not a cry for help, a vent of feeling sorry for myself, or meant to be a whining diatribe. No Apologies if it came across that way! It was simply a response to some of the conversations I've been having with a few other ex-pats here in China and some reflections on my own experience. I do occasionally reflect upon such things although I may seem like a superficial So-Calian (Word made up. So-Calians do not call themselves So-Calians. Also, how can you tell if someone is truly from Southern California? Their non-use of the word "Cali". Boom!).

As several people pointed out, that post could have applied not only to people living abroad but also to anyone who has moved any sort of distance, from down the street, to an hour away, to across the country. If you've moved you probably can identify with the feelings of losing touch with people back home and how great it feels when someone from home initiates keeping a connection with you.

I also want to clarify that in no way does all the responsibility for keeping in touch fall upon people back home. Its your responsibility too. As we all know, life just gets in the way of this at times. But if its a priority to you, putting in a little effort is sometimes all it takes. Since I grew up overseas and have had the opportunity to travel, I have friends living all over the world. I don't keep in close touch with all of them, and I used to be much better at it than I am now (2 babies and all). But I do try to keep in touch with some or connect with others when I'm in their area of the world.

So how do you do it?

1) Facebook, obviously - The number one way of keeping in touch is by posting fun status updates and pictures of your adventures. Not too much, mind you, just enough to get people to ask you for more information! For example, "What do a stop light, a taxi, and a crosswalk have in common? Not enough apparently (true story)." is a status update sure to get people asking to know more and sympathizing with your plight to cross the street in safety or laughing at your hilarious story!

2) Email updates - Be sure to include every possible way under the sun to get in contact with you (mailing addy, email, local cell, Skype number, Viber, WeChat, WhatsUp, Instagram…) so as to give them the hint you'd love to stay in touch. Although most people won't respond to a mass update letter, you're sure to get a few return emails, and people appreciate hearing from you and having your new contact info. When they comment on your hilarious status update they'll say something like, "OMG are you okay??? I loved your email update! btw how do I contact you again?"

3) Viber/WeChat/Whatsapp - Seriously THE easiest way for keeping in touch ever. I'm for sure going to use WeChat forever! People in China are crazy about it, everyone (restaurants, doctor's offices) have a WeChat account so you can send them a quick text or voice message.

4) Actually use email/texting/instagram/whatever to initiate contact - If you're a social butterfly but just can't keep in touch with everyone, choose a few people that you really want to maintain a friendship with, and initiate contact. Everyone likes it when someone reaches out them. So be that person. And get back to them when they follow up with you (I know, I know, I'm THE WORST at this right now! My email turn around time is about a month at the moment. But I'm working on it!).

That's it. So simple right? If only I had the luxury of time and energy, I could keep in touch with everyone I've ever met. Instead I think I'll order take out during nap time and catch up with my shows on Hulu.

Tune in next week for the Ex Pat Life Series Part 3: Being a person of Welcome wherever you are.

How do you keep in touch with friends near and far? 


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ex-Pat Life Series Part 1-Why don't people at home reach out to me?


Lulu be all like, "Mickey Mouse Yay! AHHHH I HATE MICKEY!!!"

You guys last week Lulu turned 2. TWO! And I am having an identity crisis. You know, no longer a mom of 2 under 2 and all. We're celebrating her birthday this Saturday with a little shindig (why am I throwing a party for a 2 year old again?!). On her actual birthday we were at Tokyo Disneyland where she had a "Happy Birthday" sticker so everyone could wish her a happy day. I'm not sure she enjoyed it since she still doesn't get it, but she sure did enjoy screaming her way through the park! She was like a little wild boar, running haphazardly through the park, bowling people over as she went. The inner conversations of the day went something like:

Me: She's so cute, look at her running to keep up with us.
Other people: That child is a terror! Quit bumping into me!
Japanese Grandma: Those are terrible parents. Look how loud and rambunctious she is.
Chinese Grandma: Look at those terrible parents letting their underdressed child scream and cry!

I think that's how it went anyway. Truthfully I didn't have much time to think much while trying to chase and contain my exhausted, wound-up Terrible Two year old. And feed the baby of course.



Anyways, I've been thinking a lot about the things you give up and the skills you develop as an ex-pat and decided to do a little informal series about it (and write using only run-on sentences). Tune in next week for my post on being a "person of welcome" wherever you are.

Being an ex-pat is great, it really is! Its exciting, fun, adventurous, challenging, and rewarding. But of course, it also comes with some unique sacrifices.

People choose to live overseas for so many reasons, whether they've relocated for a job, with the military, teaching, being a missionary, or simply for an adventure, that it would be unfair to say that everyone experiences the same challenges. There are, however, similar experiences shared by many people who move out of their home country. The biggest sacrifice being relationships with people back home.

You see, while you move into a new country and deal with all the excitement and challenges cross-cultural adjustment brings, your friends back home carry on, life as usual. You may both make a strong effort to keep in touch, at least at first, but soon the people back home stop reaching out as much. Its really difficult to keep in touch with people when you don't live in the same vicinity. As the old saying goes, "Out of sight, out of mind".

For an ex-pat, moving can become a way of life, as does learning how to keep in touch with people across the world; its a skill you develop so that you can keep in touch with the amazing friends you make during your time abroad. Unfortunately, its not a skill everyone has, especially if they are not the one who has moved.

I have always wondered why people don't reach out more often, and I think it boils down to this:

1-They hate me and think I'm weird.
2-No, its just me that thinks I'm weird. Other people are simply busy and wrapped up in their immediate lives.
3-Its hard to find the time make time for an email and an across-the-date-line Skype call.
3-They may not realize how challenging it can be to be living in a foreign place, especially in the first several months, and think that your exciting "My ayi is so awesome and look at the live snake I found at the wet market" post means that you're doing awesome.
4-They aren't skilled at keeping up long distance friendships.

Although I've often felt disappointed that friendships back home fizzled or became more distant, I've also been pleasantly surprised about the friendships that have hung on and even gotten stronger across time and distance. And those are the ones that are worth keeping.

If you're one of the friends back home, why don't you shoot your wanderlust friend a quick email, just to let them know you're thinking of them, or a quick viber text to say hi. A little connection can go a long way when you're living abroad; it always means a lot when someone from home reaches out.

Are you an ex-pat? How have you maintained friendships with people at home?




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