Living abroad can be a blast, but it’s difficult when friends and family are in crisis and you’re too far away. Helping friends from afar is still possible; you just have to be a bit more creative. How can you help?
Plenty of expats love their lives abroad and wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. There are challenges, opportunities, and new friendships abound while living in another country. But there are some aspects of life abroad that aren’t great. Helping friends back home while living abroad is difficult, to put it mildly; not being able to help a family member or a close friend in a time of need can be a crushing feeling. These feelings are especially difficult to handle as a first-time expat.
After all, you’re separated by time zones, perhaps an ocean, and a mountain of cultural differences. But imagine your best friends are going through some tough times and you don’t know how to help them. How can you remain present in the lives of friends and family back home while having them understand and accept that you live abroad?
Visit home whenever you can
This option isn’t possible for everyone, of course; flights back home can be a major investment if you’ve moved quite far away from home. But you can always try to be back whenever it’s feasible for you, even if you see yourself more as a long-term immigrant rather than an expat. Attending friends’ weddings is always a great excuse to go back. Turn it into a small vacation and go with the whole family, if you have one; if you don’t, then that makes planning a trip home a little bit easier.
Have your friends travel to you
This is the ideal situation for a couple of reasons. First, you get to spend quality time together with your closest friend in your home away from home. Second, a friend in need could be craving some kind of distract; a trip abroad might be just what the doctor ordered. In some cases, it might inspire your friend to get their life back on track.
Use technology to stay connected
Even if you can’t travel, there’s never been so many ways to stay in touch with each other: Skype, Facebook, and e-mail are the obvious choices, but there are many more. Use photo-sharing apps like Instagram or Snapchat to show what your life abroad is like. You can also use all of these apps to send messages, photos, or videos of encouragement to a friend who needs it. Reassure them that you’re there (in the digital sense), or just send them a silly video to make them laugh.
Put the distance to your advantage
While being directly involved is great, distance also has its merits. For example, you may offer a unique perspective that could be just what your friend needs. After all, you live in another country and culture; you’ve surely learned a thing or two about how different cultures handle problematic situations. Also, being further away gives you the opportunity to consider all the pros and cons of an action without getting too emotionally involved.
Show them you care
This might be a no-brainer, but we sometimes get so caught up with our expat lives – making new friends, trying to find new jobs, and caring for children – that we forget that, in our home country, there are friends who may need us. Maybe a little gift is in order? Perhaps something from your new country? What about something you know they would love? Also, while you’re sometimes separated by time zones, sometimes staying up late to talk to a friend is the right thing to do. Sometimes a phone call, a text message, a simple ‘how are you?’ is all it takes. Take the time to listen.
Talk about yourself
While your friends may go through troubles, they’ll also be interested in how you’re doing. Tell them the good things and the bad things, but be brief; this isn’t about you. However, it will create the feeling of being together despite the distance.
Don’t feel guilty
Sometimes we really want to travel to see our friends, but it just isn’t possible. There are days we all wish we could be more involved, but we can’t. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilt; true friends understand why you moved to another country. Remember that there are so many other things you can do to help.
Care for your own emotional well-being
It’s bad enough for your friends when they’re going through hard times, but it can also be hard on you. Talk to friends in your adopted home, go out for a walk, do whatever helps you relax. With a clear mind, you’ll be able to talk through a good solution for your friend back home. If that isn’t possible, it at least allows you to be a better listener. As an expat, you also have a great network of friends and experts; chances are you know just the right person to help your friend!
Make sure your friend has support
When you can’t be there, make sure that others can. Most probably, other friends will already have taken care of this situation, but it’s always good to make sure that this really is the case. Also, even though you are far away, you still have contacts to specialists in your own country; ask them to help or tell your friend to get in touch with them. Helping friends can also mean finding help for them.
Through time, distance, and different experiences, people change. This means that you don’t always know how to help any more. What worked for your friend five years ago may not work now. The solution? Ask how you can help. Ask what you can do. Tell your friend what you can do and ask them whether it’s a good idea. Then do it.
These are just a few tips, and there’s more. You’ll always realize after reflecting a bit that you could’ve done more in a situation. Always be reflexive about how you maintain friendships from abroad.
What are you doing when your friends at home need you?