Expat Living: Long-Distance Friends

Recently, I read this and this, both discussing the trials and tribulations of making new friends as an adult.  Two years ago, I moved from New York (lots of friends!) to London (only a few!) and then last year, I moved again, to Edinburgh (again, a few established friendships at the start).  And I’ve gotta agree, making new friends is hard.  That said, I don’t regret the moves and I think the challenges that went with them were all good for me.  In the process of acclimating to life in Britain, I’ve learned some things about friendship but the most critical, by far, is the importance of staying in as close touch as possible with my family and friends in the U.S.

AnnaMaria is absolutely right, there’s nothing better to fight loneliness than hearing from an old friend.  With that in mind, I thought I’d lay out some of the things I do to make sure I don’t lose touch with my friends and family.  Honestly, it’s not easy.  I’m busy and they’re busy, but technology helps a lot.

  • Skype: Seriously, Skype (or whatever free video chat service you prefer) is amazing.  My parents, both of whom are of the age where they approach all new Internet things with fear and disdain, are now its biggest fans. Skype is so easy.  And, with a little bit of creativity, it can be used to create the next best thing to being home.  This past Christmas, my mom and I continued or longstanding tradition of decorating sugar cookies together by setting up decorating stations next to each of our iMacs.  We decorated and chatted for hours.  And no, it wasn’t the same as being home but it was a lot better than abandoning the tradition.  Similarly, on Christmas Eve, I called my parents and brother on Skype just as they were arriving home from midnight mass and we opened presents together.  Again, not the same, but better than any other available option this year.
  • Gchat: Even with the time difference, my friends on the East Coat and I are generally online for at least a few of the same hours each day.  Chatting gives us the chance to do the little catch-ups (Look at this new dress I bought!  My boss is driving me crazy!  I’m going on a blind date tomorrow!).  And those little things are key to never feeling super far away.
  • Budget for travel in advance:  I’m currently back in grad school and when I was calculating a budget for the year I made sure to include multiple flights back to the States.  I knew that at least a few close friends would be getting married this year and I decided before I committed to living in Scotland that missing those kinds of events just wasn’t an option.  I used to work in a job that made it difficult to guarantee showing up somewhere at a definite time and place, so I’m now especially persnickety about not missing out on the big events.  And, even if there weren’t weddings, my U.S. travel budget would’ve probably been about the same.  My general rule is if you want to visit your family or friends and you can afford the cost (both in terms of money and time), you should GO.
  • Make it fun:  I have a couple of good friends in New York who know that when we schedule a Skype date, they should show up with a bottle of wine.  We treat it like happy hour and I always look forward to those nights.
  • Make the effort: If a friend or family member pops up online and asks for a few minutes of Skype time, take their call.  If you have a call scheduled and are feeling tired or lazy, fight it.  In my experience, not seeing people day-to-day and face-to-face makes it easier to be selfish.  However, making the effort when people reach out to you not only makes you a good friend (or daughter or son or sister or brother), it makes it much more likely that whoever is calling will make themselves available the next time you’re feeling lonely.
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