Today, is an ‘expat day.’ I’m feeling a little emotional and I wasn’t really expecting to. One of my friends who I’ve worked with for the past two years, and who went through all the sponsorship visa stress with me, had her last day at work. She’s heading back to the land of Hobbits in New Zealand.
We were friends, but never really did anything together outside of work events, which is why I think I was most surprised by my own reaction. I knew she was leaving for months but when the final ‘goodbye email’ got sent around to the team, tears started to form in my eyes. I couldn’t shake the feeling of sadness crawling up my throat; if I wasn’t sitting at my desk surrounded by people, I feel like I could have bawled my eyes out. Go ahead, blame the hormones. Instead, I gazed out my window and silently (and hopefully discretely), dabbed tears away – praying to not ruin my makeup. It was the realization that my expat network was shrinking – yet another one of my friends was leaving. That, is what made me the most sad. Another person who understands how hard life as a foreigner can be. Another piece of my London heart was taking off.
When you move to another country on your own, you know no one and you rely and depend on complete strangers to help fill the void of your close friends and family from home. Nothing is familiar, and even the simplest of things turns into an ordeal that feels like it could almost break you (for me it was first setting up a bank account). You cling so closely to these new acquaintances that they become like family, sometimes your bond together feels stronger after a few months of knowing someone, than friends you’ve known your entire existence. It’s the same as travel friends. It’s a strange emotional dynamic.
I don’t know if any of you have ever moved or switched schools, I did when I was a dramatic 12-year old (I’m still the same, just older). I had a little party and invited over all the girls in my grade 6 class. Imagine the loneliness and sadness you felt leaving all your friends behind; the ones who know all your secrets, the ones who asked your crush to circle Y/N on paper if they liked you, your girls who tell you if you should go with the blue top or the red. Now, imagine all of that and imagine also losing your family. The people who make sure to bring you Berocca’s when you’re feeling sick, or take you to A&E if it’s serious, the people who help you move and will sit and listen to you cry when you’re just having one of those days, the ones you go to for life advice or job hunting tips. The ones who get it because they’ve also gone through it. Your support network. Multiply that ache by every time you watch a friend board a one-way plane; no UK landing card needed. That’s how it feels.
I’ve made some lifelong friends in London from all over the world, and I feel immensely privileged to have been able to be included in one tiny chapter of their book. All the friends I made in my first two years in London have all left and gone home. Every.Single.Person. One time, I had four leaving drinks in one week. FOUR! It’s exhausting, and emotionally draining to lose someone you’ve invested in, trusted and shared your life stories with. In a city of almost 9 million people, it’s incredibly easy to feel alone here.
As an expat, you always feel like you have to start from 0, as if you’re always on some sort of continuous cycle. It’s part of the reason why we picked up and moved in the first place – a fresh start. You choose carefully who to invest your time with, because in the back of your mind, you know it will be precious. We’re guaranteed two years in this wonderful, beautiful, maddening country, and I’m making the most of it.
It’s not like high school where if you don’t like someone in your friend circle, you have to put up with them for the greater good. As an expat, you can choose to never see them again. This is both a haunting and liberating thought.
The thing with expat life, especially in London, is that SO many Aussie’s and Kiwis move over here, it’s like a right of passage. A lot of the friends I’ve made have been from these far reaching parts of the world, they’re great craic. Canada and Oceania aren’t exactly the closest of places, what if I never see them again? Similarly, I’ve made some of the greatest friends from across my beautiful country, but they all live on an 8 hour time zone and flight away. I want to believe that I will see them all again, but there’s always the doubt.
A line from one of my favourite British bands, Seafret comes to mind:
It feels like there’s oceans
Between me and you once again
When I was approved for my new 3 year visa, I thought that I would finally feel settled in one place, I had certainty on the next few years of my life. This has been afterall, the longest I’ve spent in one place since 2009. I guess I wasn’t expecting any more leaving drinks.
I don’t know how the story is coming across to you, readers. I’m not meaning for you to want to get out your tiny violin and play me a song, I promised when starting this blog I would write about my REAL experiences and this was one I wanted to share. I also don’t want to come across as snobby or self-centred, because I can only imagine the heartache and sorrow of what it feels like to be on the leaving side of things. And I know, one day I will.
Of course, I have British and EU friends – I’ve not been completely anti-social, I have integrated with society ;). I love them all to bits, but there’s just some things they will never understand because they’ve never gone through it. And that’s okay, because they brighten my day in so many other ways.
I’m very proud and generally happy with the life I’ve built for myself, and all this leaving is what I signed up for. I’ll be okay, but tonight I’ll sit on the couch with a glass of red, listening to sad songs and think about all the people who have touched my life in the past three years. I’ll remember the laughs, the passport stamps, the drunken nights stumbling home, the various ways in which we met, but most importantly I’ll remember how I promised to see them again.
And then I’ll start trip planning.