Category Archives: family

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.








Prompty!: Sister Memories

Well! A hitch in the plan for daily posts! I spent the night at my friends’ place last night, and they have no internet. Freebie for me! 😉

So, I’m part of a ladies’ journaling group (in the US), and we’ve been trying to get moving regularly on the prompts of Sophie Isobel Asher, an artist and writer based in Mildura, Victoria (Australia). I haven’t done a single one yet. Isn’t that just the best? I’m such a good participator! I suppose I have to forgive myself since the journaling group took off basically as soon as all the wedding and moving-across-the-world-to-Asia-on-my-own madness began, but jeesh, it wouldn’t kill me to write 500 words on something specific at some point during a two week period. Anyways, here’s my first attempt, and I’ll be using the following prompt (one of this week’s set of daily prompts from Sophie):

I Remember: This is an opportunity to capture moments of childhood joy. A favourite celebration, holiday or sweet memory. Notice where your mind wanders to, what fills you with happiness.

I chose this prompt specifically because it’s about childhood, and my childhood has been on my mind ever since my little sister’s wedding last weekend. I got to relive it all again last night when I was at my friends’ place; Mbak N., a relatively-newlywed herself, asked me all sorts of questions about what weddings are like in America. Most of what I told her about she had seen/heard in movies, but it was nice to share with her about the little details and shock her with the fact that I had done the officiating myself!

The wedding day stirred up so many feelings for me about my younger sister. It was so magical to see her to happy and to watch her feel the love we all have for her; sometimes, I think, she doesn’t feel it, even though it’s always there… she seems to have a hard time, as we all do now and then, with the self-care and self-love stuff, and witnessing her experience and internalize the immense love and joy of her wedding day—the love and joy that came from within her and that which she received from everyone around her—was nothing short of magical. I have said repeatedly since the wedding day that it was the best day of my life, and that’s no lie. I have such strong love for baby sis, and seeing her showered with love was just tops. If I were ever to have a wedding, it’d have to be pretty phenomenal to top the emotional payoff I received from witnessing and participating in my sister’s.

I had a hard time thinking about what I’d say during my toast at the reception and wanted to freestyle it so that what came out of my mouth would be genuine. But I think what ended up happening was that I had too many emotions and thoughts in my head, and I didn’t necessarily feel satisfied with what I was able to say. I felt pressure from convention to remember specific childhood memories—funny stories, little anecdotes of interaction, specific moments and events in my sister’s life—but all I could think of in the days prior to the weddings were just impressions: details of how she looked or acted, memories of feelings I had about her when we were younger, little home-movies of unimportant incidents that replayed themselves in my head when I tried to remember something toast-worthy.

My sister had scraggly blonde hair as a kid and the most messed up teeth ever. She was as skinny as a twig and really quite a naughty young thing in her early years. At one point she had rose-pink, round plastic glasses with rose-tinted frames… they went really well with her bowl cut. We used to fight over who’d get to play certain levels of Mario World because the prizes were really great. I never wanted her to hang around me; the 5 year difference was quite enormous for us. I have distinct memories of our mother breastfeeding her when she was an infant—she always used a long pillow with a boxy black and white pattern. My sister always slept in my room on Christmas Eve, and it always irritated me (usually she’d wake me up with excitement even though I could have definitely kept sleeping). She had perfect babydoll skin and still does. Her teachers used to be mean to her. She and I used to trade Halloween candy, and I was usually able to trick her to get her best stuff. We only had one year together at the same school, when I was in 5th grade and she was in Kindergarten…I don’t remember what we did together that year, if anything, although I think we had daycare together (probably I avoided her). She used to do the “sway back” thing in her 2’s and 3’s and give my mom a hell of a time. She had Little Mermaid roller skates while I had mom’s old red-and-white ones. She also had a my-size Barbie of which I was secretly very jealous (mostly because I was too old/big to put on the my-size princess outfit). She was very lazy about doing her homework, but she was involved in Brownies and was very cute in her little uniform. Actually, she was a really cute child. We used to get in trouble for jumping on the big trampoline together instead of one at a time.

I could keep going, but what’s bugging me now is that most of my memories are of me not being a very good sister. Admittedly, my sister was a little maladjusted hellion. Sorry, sis, but you know it’s true! I don’t remember really feeling like we were friends until I went away to college… I’m sure it was a combination of me being older (and selfish) and her being younger (and naughty) that caused us to have so much friction. Whatever the case, she’s my best friend now. I suppose that’s all that matters, although I’m sure that my own assholiness towards her as a child contributed to her lack of self-esteem as a young person. But maybe I can tell myself that my love for her now is helping her work through those issues a little bit?

I guess I can’t fret and worry and guilt myself. I was a dumb kid, and I didn’t have a lot of examples of good-siblingship around me growing up (even among my aunts and uncles). What counts now is that she’s totally the best person ever, even though she still gets me really, really pissed sometimes (and I’m very confident I piss her off, too). I just love her. I guess the fact that she asked me to officiate her wedding shows that she doesn’t hate me that much for being such a shit to her when we were kids.

I have a hard time even thinking of a favorite memory of her, but I think it’s from our adulthood: whenever I make her laugh until she pees her pants. It has happened several times. I’m sure it will happen again. When we get together, it’s just so weird. We’re both so weird, and we’re the only ones who see this specific, super weird side of one another. I’m devolving now into territory not worth writing about, not only because I can’t explain it, but also because you just have to be one of us to get it.

Anyways. That’s all I have to say in response to the prompt. Now, my initial reflection on the prompt: I strayed, didn’t I? It wasn’t all happiness and joy. Not everyone has happiness and joy in their childhood. But what my heart is full of now (and was overflowing with last weekend at the wedding) was happiness and joy. During the toast, I kept repeating how happy I was—to the point where someone in the crowd made a comment about it! But I don’t care. I don’t need fancy language or a fancy adjective to express it. I just felt totally, wholly, completely, down-to-my-bones happy. And that’s what a wedding is supposed to make you feel, right?

really hope she makes it to Indonesia soon. That would be so epic!! Sis?