¨A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles¨
When I left my home country in 2012 to make a new one in Chile, I took with me a suitcase that struggled to stay shut. And yet I realize, all these years later, that none of the things I´d packed I would miss if they´d been left behind.
What I have learnt is that
a) people make your memories special, and
b) being an expat means saying goodbye
I have said goodbye to the life that I used to know. All the things I used to enjoy doing and can no longer do in Santiago – even the way I used to like a Subway sandwich and the taste of certain foods (especially dairy). I´ve said goodbye to everything from brands through to how I´d spend my money – and especially to how I am treated in a store as the customer.
On a deeper level I´ve also said goodbye to the person I used to be. Traveling has made me grow as a person, become more considerate and more open, more inclined to embrace changes. I´ve also noted that my position in society has changed; whereas Chile does not have the problem of chauvinism like other countries, it still has room to grow.
Perhaps my greatest loss has been saying goodbye to people. When I left my country I farewelled friends and family knowing that I was leaving behind opportunities to take part in the small moments that make up our lives, relying instead on letters and a computer screen that in way make up for them. I have become reliant on memories, often sparked by food, and which fade as the time wares on. My absence has meant that not only do I miss the small stuff but also the big things too. I wasn´t there to help my grandparents as they succumbed to pneumonia, I wasn´t able to be with my grandfather as the life support was turned off or attend his funeral. I was not present to visit my mother in hospital throughout her MS attack or accompany her on her journey to wellness afterwards. My children are growing up with only one set of grandparents, of which no amount of presents or Skype chats can replace.
Being an expat ultimately means that you have to build a home somewhere different. For most of us, we long for a connection that remind us of what we have left behind and so we reach out, grasping with a desperation that is akin to blind dating. When we find someone with whom we click, we pour out our hearts, moan and even cry together – because if they are expat too they just get it.
But as expats we will always have connections that take us away from our adopted homeland. Sometimes – often – we find ourselves having to say goodbye to our friends. Years ago I was asked by an expat mum who has lived here for more than a decade if I was likely to leave any time soon. I thought this was a strange question and I told her so.
¨I was always making friends then watching them leave – I hate all the goodbyes¨ she told me, and now years later I finally understand her point. This is why it is so important to make local friends too, who can help you understand the intricacies of their culture and who are also more likely to stick around. But no matter how hard you try to fit in, you will always be foreign, and the expat community can give you that space to vent, take a breath and come back stronger.
So now, as my 3rd good friend prepares to leave Chile, I´m left with the prospect of being friendless once again. And so I will have to start the search anew, searching for that special someone I can ´click´ with. I no longer feel shame about it – as a mother we need our support network – and since the people I click with most are parents I came up with a term for it: BubDate. I am keen to get back out there in the field soon – let me know if you want to BubDate sometime 😉
Chile misses you Emily, Vanessa and (soon) Nami!