A friend of mine from college sent me the link to this article a few weeks ago. Her mother is an expat (from Spain, to the US), and she mentioned that she saw a lot of her mother’s friendships in the article. I read the entire thing, nodding…
There is this subtle understanding in the expat world that it is easier to make American friends outside America.
When we moved here, I worried about making friends. Here we were, moving to a country we had been to ONCE, where we didn’t know a soul. Despite my Irish surname, I have no known family connections to Ireland. Brad was hired specifically to IBM Ireland – so we didn’t even know any of his coworkers. We had two very young kids, and I was pregnant with a (super) surprise baby. We had no idea about the medical system here. We didn’t know the least bit about living in Ireland, and just had to jump in with both feet.
As I jumped, a group of women – mainly expats – caught me. They recommended hospitals and doctors, pointed me to local grocery stores where I could get the American foods I was craving, explained the driver’s license process (it’s a long one), listened to my complaints and frustrations without judgement, and generally made me feel at home. They shortened and lessened the learning curve. Their knowledge empowered me. If they could figure all of this out, then I could to. If their families could survive and thrive in the expat environment, then my little family would find its footing as well.
My friends in Ireland are a diverse lot. In some ways, I don’t think that I would have been friends with some of them if we had met in the US. Back home, it is very easy for us to self-select a group of friends that are like-minded. Friends that are the same age, or same stage in life, similar socio-economic background, with similar views on parenting, religion, politics, etc. Here – all of that extraneous material is stripped away. Much like trees in the wintertime. My expat friends here are different ages, ethnicities, parents (or not), religious (or not), each with a diverse set of values. Most have lived in America at some point in their lives. The main thing we have in common is that we are, or were, expats. Most importantly, they are kind and trustworthy. I loved this quote from the post:
“It’s not as if everyone gets naked and frolics in the hot tub of life abroad. Far from it. There are cliques and groups and people who don’t like each other with an intensity bordering on manic–in other words, it’s just like real life–the one outside the expat bubble. What is different is the closeness you feel to those you do like–and the speed at which that closeness develops.”
It is so very true – I consider these women to be as close as some of my lifelong friends, even though we have only known each other for a short amount of time. The kind of friend that doesn’t hesitate to be your emergency contact at your child’s school (no relative to put on that one!), sit with you at the hospital, or babysit your children when you’re in a bind. They are my Irish extended family. They join you for holiday celebrations, or help out at your child’s birthday party. One of these women will move back to the US next month. I wish her well, and I hope that she finds a group of friends there that are just as supportive as our group is here.