Overseas + friend life

I didn’t realize these were posting to Facebook, but I suppose that’s a good thing; generally, I try to write interestingly but often end up just doing this for myself since writing is one of the best ways– if not the best way– to process new experiences (at least for me), but I guess the gentle reminder that this is a “public” blog will help me be a little more dedicated and thorough. And there’s no excuse for not writing, really, since I’ve got handfuls of free time; hopefully, these posts keep coming regularly.

At the urging of friends, I’ve started to think about doing a book project, but we’ll see; I get so many positive comments about the blog itself, many of which are really too complimentary considering the questionable quality, and it’d be cool if I could somehow turn this into a larger project. But as I said, we’ll see; today, I’d like to do another (effectively) free write about a conversation I had yesterday with my friend Mr. M, a wonderful, thoughtful, and incredibly inspiring person from my Fulbright cohort (and one of the most light-filled, genuine people I’ve ever met).

We discussed many things during our 90-odd minute chat and touched but briefly on the topic/concept (?) of international friendship and relationships, although we didn’t call it this in so many words. Basically, in addition to adapting to all of the basic, basic aspects of life abroad– new food, new bathroom situations, new weather realities, new people (including new friends), and new language/culture (admittedly not so basic)– it goes almost without saying that adaptations occur between oneself and one’s family and friends back home. At the risk of sounding cheesy or juvenile, moving abroad really has shown me who my true family is. This sounds so lame as I’m typing here, and it reminds me of how my PC friends and I used to discuss how the cheesy metaphor “Peace Corps is a roller coaster of emotions” was really the only way to describe the emotional ups and downs even semi-accurately. The same goes here: it’s super cheesy to say, but moving abroad really facilitates true colors being shown, re: friendships.

But that’s not really what this post is about. That’s too simplistic of a concept/observation to bother wasting time with (although I do think there’s something interesting about comparing moving abroad temporarily/finitely, as one might do in PC or with a Fulbright, to really moving abroad possibly long-term and/or without a definite return date, i.e. immigrating or temporarily immigrating– and I won’t say “becoming an expat” since you know that’s a charged term that I really dislike; mainstream Americans would never give Mexican or Syrian immigrants the moniker of “expat”; the term’s charged with privilege and is effectively a racialized term for, in general, white and/or wealthy Westerners who move to the developing world; in the reverse situation, “expats” becomes “immigrants”, since “immigrating” implies leaving/moving for a better life, and who’d ever imagine that a Westerner could find a higher quality of life by moving to a developing country? Plus, I don’t really identify with the wealthy, bubble-living “expat” class here and don’t really want to…– or, even in the moderate/medium-term, establishing a life overseas with no sense of the temporariness of a “stint” or participation in a specific program, which is basically what I’m doing now. There’s a clear additional layer of complexity when the months and years pile on and I get “further and further” from my close friends at home in terms of experiences, re: shared realities. Just as it was hard for me to see the changes my family would go through during Peace Corps because I was so focused on myself, I think there’s a similar risk for friends in the States (especially, honestly, those without international living / immigration experiences who think that strong friendships don’t need pretty much constant tending) in terms of seeing me as a continually dynamic, growing, changing person who has developed another full, real life somewhere else: friends, lovers, family, routines, the humdrum of the day-to-day, responsibility to others (not in the sense of volunteering, but in the sense of really being a part of a community because this is my life, not because I’m needing to be a do-gooder or continue bringing my PCV attitude with me and be actively engaged, etc.). This is especially true when people drop out of touch despite efforts on my part to keep engaging with them. And I’m not trying to point any blame, per se; some people just can’t deal, which I can relate to, since I can’t really deal with America in ways that they perhaps can! Strengths and weaknesses for everyone.

Just this, though: it takes a lot of fucking work to maintain quality friendships overseas, and I don’t think this fact is fully appreciated or talked about nearly enough… or perhaps didn’t fully appreciate this until actually “immigrating” or deciding to continue living here without a 100% firm return date. There are some people who do not or cannot put this work in, and it’s a sobering and sometimes heartbreaking experience/realization.

So, to touch on what Mr. M and, now that I think of it, Ms. C (a glorious PCV friend) and I have been discussing separately over the past 24 hours, personality types and “fits” (as in “fitting in,” not “conniption”) play a huge role in this. But now that I’m writing this out, it seems so obvious; am I generally just stating the obvious on this blog all the time? Whatever. Friendship success depends on our individual personalities as well as those of our friends back in the States, and I think it’s extremely hard to maintain friendships (and some family relationships) long-term AND long-distance when personality types are not harmonious. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to match, but there needs to be a certain give-and-take established from the start of the relationship if it’s ever to survive the trials and tribulations of extreme distance (and time). Mr. M and I both display characteristics of HSPs (and I identify as an HSP), and this absolutely, undoubtedly influences the way I experience my long-distance friendships. I can get easily overwhelmed by the number of texts I get on a given day as I try to keep regular conversations open with people all over, easily frustrated at my perceived inability to give everyone what they want and need while maintaining a regimen of self-care and awareness of my own needs, and easily, acutely hurt when friendships start to fall apart or get rocky, even if the other people/person involved may not have any feelings of the sort (or even consider things to be rocky). The pain involved in realizing someone doesn’t prioritize a friendship in the same way is one of the most worst things I have ever experienced; I didn’t sign up to lose friends, but I have to admit, thinking I wouldn’t lose some friends by moving halfway around the world would be naive, so of course I can deal, but I’m not here to say that mourning is easy or that I really anticipated how deeply I’d feel things… or that I’d want to deal at all.

A (The) hard(est?) thing is thinking about how it’s impossible that I haven’t done this to others, knowingly or not. There have been friends I’ve intentionally pushed away, but I didn’t know what else to do. I simply couldn’t and can’t maintain everything, for one, and second, the effort and letdown process gets really fucking tiring after a while, and I can’t keep up the energy. And it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that someone I care or have cared about must or may feel similarly about me. Of course, the empathy is real, but it sucks being the one, well, broken up with. Since I’m an HSP with a history of being the one breaking up with people in romantic relationships, I think the pain is more acutely felt when I’m on the raw end of a friendship deal; I don’t generally put maximum effort into friendships I don’t see as being permanent or very long-term, and I think this is a normal approach to things that most everyone takes, and having to decipher whether it’s distance or myself that’s to blame for a friendship failure can lead to dark places. Unrequited love sucks. (See why I feel I’m stating the obvious?) But the personality type angle is arguably interesting; heartbreak of all sorts hits us all in different ways, and figuring out how we process things differently or just in general figuring out how we as individuals process experiences and emotions based on core elements of our being is incredibly worthwhile (and perhaps a major aspect of the purpose of our lives). Self-awareness!!

BUT this sad place is not where I wanted this blog post to go, and I think it’s time to shift gears and get back to the nuggets of gold from my convo with Mr. M. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the last ten years of my life since I turned thirty a few days ago; it has been a nice opportunity to think about the amazing people I’ve met, places I’ve seen, food I’ve eaten, jobs I’ve had, achievements I’ve made (etc.) in my twenties. I think that overall, I’ve done well, though I had a few huge fights I’m not proud of, had some questionable drinking habits at certain points, and probably had one too many meaningless flings with too many meaningful people. I had my heart broken a couple of times and did the same to others. I made some stupid financial decisions and took some jobs and chances that I maybe shouldn’t have taken. I changed my eating habits a lot, often extremely. I made some sacrifices and moved to Southeast Asia three times.

And of course, lots of good stuff happened along the way, too. As I look back on pictures and memories and see what pulls my heartstrings, though, it’s not about the food or nature adventures or snapping the best pic or catching the coolest performance or exhibit or cultural event– it’s always about the people. And this connects to my conversation with Mr. M since the theme of our discussion was, on a very general level, growing up. That real growing up that seems to be, or so I’ve gathered, a never-ending process that only starts as soon as you think you’ve grown up.

Back to people. What I never could have anticipated when joining PC, going to grad school, accepting my Fulbright, continuing at UMM, and probably even now, moving to Jakarta, were the amazing friendships I’d make. Of course, logically, we know we‘ll make friends when embarking on new life chapters, but I think that younger people– or at least, my younger self– tend to focus on the things that seem more impending: making a difference, teaching, learning a new language, doing projects, taking pictures, having adventures, etc.– in other words, the arguably more salient aspects of jumping into life abroad and all that comes with it. And of course, making new friends is always on the radar, but it’s just so miraculous to look back and really understand what I was getting into by joining these programs and making these choices; I didn’t join specifically to make friends, but making friends– the specific, amazing, wonderful people I’ve met– is, ultimately, one of the best outcomes of what I’ve done up to this point, when perhaps, at the beginning, I thought other outcomes would be the most important. Having a picture of a nice mountain or beach is great, but having a picture of a nice mountain or beach with a friend who eventually would become a huge or even permanent part of my life is what’s really special. Making and falling in love with friends and friendships is a beautiful process, and I feel that I’ve been very lucky in my life and in my twenties in particular to meet more true friends than I can count on one hand. Out of the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve crossed paths with over the past ten years or so, I never could have anticipated the profound joy of seeing my life unfold in terms of friendships and chosen family, despite the sorrow incurred along the way. And it makes me so excited to see what’s next for us in Jakarta. At this point, this birthday time, looking back at the smart, talented, caring, funny, deeply intelligent and thoughtful people I’ve met– not even all Americans or all Indonesians, by any stretch– is what brings me the most happiness. And I guess it’s part of growing up to realize that this is how it’s supposed to be. I’m still young, but I think I’ve got a much better perspective on myself and my friendships than I did a few years ago and definitely value the person-to-person aspects of life more deeply than ever before… even if it’s a surprisingly vibrant but still very new friendship built and cultivated from a distance, right Mr. M? I don’t think I’ve mentioned, but I’ve only seen Mr. M maybe… twice, in person? You see why I consider myself lucky; it can be hard to forge deep connections while living abroad and in big cities (even domestically) since by nature these scenes are transitory, but that’s also part of what’s driving my excitement and passions: I just really don’t know and can’t even anticipate the exciting people I’ll meet and potentially strange friendship-building processes we’ll experience together.

And as for that sorrow, I think the pain is eased by this very realization: the future really is limitless and full of potential. Each person is a new reality in and of themselves… and now that I’m living in the third largest megacity on earth, who knows what new people will come into my life, potentially for good?

There’s more in my mind about this subject, but I think this is a good start for now. Thanks for reading. ❤


PS: Thank you, technology.








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