New cities offer an almost unlimited amount of new possible friends. As many expats move abroad alone most people are very open to the idea of meeting new people and making new friends. Activities and meetings are organized through a large collection of meet up groups that often center around a particular interest, be it language learning, sports or culture. There is literally a meet up group for everything and everyone, including history geeks such as myself. My own group for example numbers around 150 expats, international students and even a few stray Germans who like to combine sightseeing and learning more about local history with socializing, eating and drinking.
With all these possibilities one could however easily lose sight of what is happening back home, in the Heimat. Despite all the modern technology, moving abroad changes friendships. Yes, there is whatsapp, Skype, email and what have you, but this electronic contact is not nearly the same as drinking tea and watching movies all Sunday. It does not beat cooking together and experimenting with baking cakes. It cannot replace discovering new places together and doing everything that we used to do when I was still home, in good old Leiden. And although living and working abroad has a lot of advantages and there are many good sides to it, this is what I miss most about home. The obviousness of my circle of close friends of many years, knowing that there is always someone who is up for any crazy plan I might come up with. And no matter how nice it is to meet new people, nothing beats those girls I go back with to the early days of university. I don’t say it nearly enough, but those who I mean know who they are.
Fortunately Hamburg is not that far away and I do get visitors every now and then. Two of my fave Leiden girls were here last month, and only last weekend I welcomed one of my best friends from high school. And then suddenly living abroad is a good reason to finally spend some quality time together. In the latter case for example it must have been many years since we spent more than one day together, when we lived in two neighbouring villages. And despite not seeing and talking to each other as often as we used to, these connections were easily be rediscovered, and I really enjoyed our weekend together.
Sometimes living abroad too creates strong friendships. My longing for Kuwait has only partly to do with the amazing and fascinating country Kuwait is. Even more than Kuwait itself however I miss those people I spent most days of the week with for those six months I was there. It is because of this reason that I think more fondly of Kuwait than of any of the other places I lived previously or afterwards. Fortunately Europe is a popular holiday destination for those living and working in Kuwait, so that I have had the pleasure of meeting most of my favourite people from Kuwait again after my departure – some even more than once!
In today’s globalized world distances are no longer what they used to be. Some of my favourite friends from days spent abroad I met in more than one country (the record so far is four different countries!). Other people I have unfortunately not been able to see again after my departure from their respective countries, despite both parties’ wishes to meet up again. And although in most cases contact diminishes after a departure, in other cases unexpected things happen. Who would have thought for example that I would still keep closely in touch with a certain young engineering kid from my Istanbul days? It has been over 4 years since we last met, but time only strengthened our friendship.
‘Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes’. How very true this quote by Henry David Thoreau is. Today’s world is like a global village, and people that establish strong connections in one place will certainly be able to meet up in another place, if only they really want it. But although distance has never held me back from moving to far-away countries, people are the most important things I miss when moving across borders.
Photo credits: Jayel Aheram/Flickr/CC BY-2.0