Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Nature of Relationships in the Expat World

"When you are an Expat, you either become very outgoing or build up walls to keep yourself safe from the hurt of leaving people."

This excerpt from our book was submitted to us by an Expat Teen Alumnus (aka Adult TCK) about his/her experiences as an Expat Teen. In the Expat World, where change is one of the only things that is constant, saying "goodbye" becomes the other constant. This happens either because you are moving, or because those around you are moving. There are many teens who live for most, if not all, of their life in one country, though it is not the country of birth or where they hold a passport. But because of the permanent nature of their residence, they find themselves saying "good bye" to their Expat Teen peers who do move on to new locations. As a result, it can become difficult to make friendships or to share too much of yourself with a person for fear of losing a piece of yourself when that person leaves. Alternatively, some like being able to share information about themselves with others to maximize the time that they do have together. So, what has your experience been like? How do you feel about establishing bonds with others? How do you manage the feelings that come with saying "good bye"? Here are a few tips that may help with the process of saying hello and preparing to say goodbye:

  • Share as you feel comfortable. You may not want to share your entire life story from the first "hello," but there may be some information that you are fine with sharing as you build rapport with someone. Identify what that is (it may be different for different people, and may be dependent on who you meet), and only share the amount that you feel comfortable sharing at the rate that you feel comfortable sharing.
  • Don't just maintain a presence on social media. The foundation of maintaining personal relationships is communication. This can come in various forms, including calling, sms'ing/texting, Facebook messages, IM'ing, and more. But some of these methods can feel rather impersonal, especially if you are posting pictures and messages for dozens (or hundreds) of people to see. Consider taking the time to send a personal email, make an actual call on Skype, or use Face Time to let that person know how much you care.
  • Find support in the constants. Most of you move around the world with your nuclear family. Therefore, they are going through many of the same changes that you are, and they are saying "good bye" about as often as you are. In essence, they are the constants in your life. So, remember that you have people in your life who are constantly there (for the most part), and consider reaching out to them to see how they are handling saying goodbye, and to learn other ways to manage your feelings. If you don't feel like you can talk to your family members who are living with you, consider reaching out to other constants, such as extended family members in other countries, or an older sibling at university. It can make a difference to know that there are people who are close to you who can help you feel better about always having to say goodbye.
  • Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Even when you are able to get comfort from your family, it's still nice to know that there are others your age who are experiencing similar feelings and frustrations. So, reach out to them on blogs, chatrooms, or other websites. Even though your experience may still hurt, sometimes being reminded that others are going through it to makes it a bit more manageable.

For more information about this and other topics geared towards Expat Teenagers/Third Culture Kids, we invite you to check out our book, Expat Teens Talk, available on Amazon and at www.expatbookshop.com

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