Monday Postcard #34 – Homecoming as an Expat
My circle of friends is very diverse: some are Austrians living abroad, some are internationals who moved to Vienna and some never spent time abroad. I have been abroad for quite some time now and over the years, I could see that my circle of friends has changed. Moving abroad naturally also changed myself and I experienced positive and negative reactions when I come home.
Last week, I spent an afternoon with my friend who recently moved back to Vienna. We both agreed that it is crucial to surround yourself with people who understand your lifestyle. This does not necessarily mean that we only spend time with expats but we agreed it needs to be people who are open-minded to hearing and talking about lifestyle choices which might not necessarily be their own.
The first two years when I moved abroad, I realized that not everyone was as open-minded. I set up drinks with some friends who stayed in Vienna and was really excited to see them. But gradually, I got more and more negative reactions. I was single for a very long time and my career required me to make me move across the globe every eight months. Of course, this was very different to most of the relationships back in Vienna. When I shared stories about guys I met or some dates, I very often got derogatory remarks making me feel as if I was a loose person, obsessed with my career, not knowing what I want in my personal life. Because they had never been in my shoes, they did not know how difficult it was for me abroad.
When I then started to have a relationship with somebody with a completely different cultural background, ie. not Austrian, I got remarks like: “It must be tough always talking in English. Is this really you then? Because by not talking Austrian/German to your partner, you lose your identity.” I also got a lot of racist comments; quite blunt ones actually, like intercultural dating will not work out and far worse stuff.
Because some of those people had been my friends for years, I held onto those friendships for some time. Even though I was hurt, I did not want to stop seeing people who had been a constant of my life for a significant amount of time. Gradually I realized that they also did not seem to care anymore when I came back to Vienna. They casually cancelled coffee or drink dates we had set up a month in advance; until I stopped getting in touch with them and focussing on those who really wanted to catch up.
I started to realize that I needed to say good-bye to those people. Sometimes, you need to break up with long-term friendships. I had conversations with other expats, I engaged in online forums and I read a lot about it on blogs. Some people thing it is envy – because of making the decision of having what seems to be an extraordinarily exciting life. However, I am not sure if this is the real reason. Maybe we just drifted apart? Maybe these friends also had the feeling that I just cannot understand them anymore.
Recently, I read on a blog that real friends does not necessarily mean those who have been with us for years. Sometimes, it clicks with people you only know recently. This does not mean that every acquaintance will automatically become your soulmate but I do agree. Sometimes, people I only met recently seem to get me in a way as if we had known each other forever. I also reconnected to a lot of friends who I had not seen in years.
I think it is a natural thing that the older we get, the more concentrated our circle of friends becomes. We might know a lot of people and enjoy spending time with them. But my real friends – those who will always be there for me no matter what – are few. Probably this is not only true for expats but for anyone.
Even though it was tough to say good-bye to some – of what I thought – friends, the decision was the right one. People who make you feel bad about yourself to make themselves feel better should not be worth our time. I am grateful for those friends who always stood by me. Even if they chose totally different paths and still try to understand what is going on in my life. It is those people who you might not have seen in months, but when you do, it feels as if you have never been apart.
I wish you a great week ahead! Spend it with your loved ones who care about you no matter what!