7 Tips to Help Cope with Being Left Behind
Published on: June 12, 2020
An expat struggles when close friends leave. Laurie is a long-term expat who has farewelled many friends. While the good-byes don’t get easier she has learned ways to manage when staying behind.
By Laurie Charusorn
The first 6 months of my life in Thailand were hard, isolating, and lonely. I moved to Bangkok with my now Thai husband whom I met while in university. I was first optimistic and excited to embark on a whole new adventure halfway across the world. But, I had left behind the comfort and familiarity of a wonderful, large, and close-knit family, many friends, and a successful career in America. Culture shock is real.
During those early months, 95% of my days were lost in translation. I found that my Thai relationships, although wonderful, were tough at the same time. When in a group, even when fluent in English, most Thais still prefer to speak in Thai. I never worried about being the subject of gossip; it was much more about feeling left out because I couldn’t contribute to conversations. The same was true with my fellow Thai colleagues at the office and with my in-laws at dinner time and during family outings.
And then I met Tasha. For those expats who have been here a while — I think many of us have a first friend who helped us come to grips with new surroundings, and figure out that being an expat isn’t so bad after all. Tasha appeared like a beam of sunshine in the desk next to mine and literally changed my life overnight.
I was able to talk to someone who not only spoke English natively, but also actually understood and could empathize with what I was feeling. She encouraged me to join a local netball team, and I had a social life again. I learned that I could explore the city, and successfully navigate Bangkok by myself. Tasha became my lifeline.
And, just like that, one year later, she moved on. I don’t normally cry but I cried. My Thai husband, although sympathetic, didn’t quite grasp the extent of my sadness. I did not know how I was going to survive without her. And then, another good friend leaves, and repeat.
Even though I still struggle when close friends leave, here are a few tips I can offer that have helped me cope with being left behind after more than 11 years in Thailand.
1. Learn to embrace your emotions, work through them, and come through the other side stronger
A close friend leaving is hard. It can almost feel like a loss. Expat friendships are often extra special because there is a sense of shared experiences that naturally creates a closeness for inside jokes, misunderstanding the local culture together, and crazy stories. It happens much faster than when you are at home because everyone is ‘in the same boat.’ It’s okay to cry. It’s healthy to allow yourself to feel your emotions, to be upset, and to go through the grieving process. The trick is to go through the process and still come through the other side appreciating the friendship that you had, and have realistic expectations about the friendship that will continue. You will still be friends, just not in the same way.
2. Say a proper goodbye
Make time for a farewell lunch, dinner or coffee. Buy a small gift that means something to both of you and/or write them a card. Tell them what their friendship means to you, and thank them for being a part of your life. Don’t make promises you know you can’t keep.
3. Find some friends that have been and will be in Thailand for a long time
Seek out some core friendships with other people less likely to leave. I joined a group of other expat women who were also with Thai partners. I connected with other expats who grew up in Bangkok or had strong connections to the country. I recently co-started a Facebook group called The Long Run – Thailand to connect with a group of ladies with no plans to leave.
This is not a guarantee – many long-timers do leave as well – you just mitigate the risk.
4. Do not shut out the short-stayers
After Tasha left, for a few years, I gave in to the all too common reaction of shutting out new friends to avoid being hurt again. When introduced to someone new, after the normal pleasantries, my next question was always, “How long are you planning to stay in Bangkok?” Anything under 5 years, the person was an automatic out. But, I eventually learned this isn’t the way to go.
If you close yourself off, you are likely the one to be missing out. One of my closest, but short-staying friends, Sophie, lived in the apartment building across the street, so it was super easy to pop by for a “cuppa” at each other’s houses. We had a lot in common, and could spend hours discussing documentaries, books, family, and what we felt about the world. She provided a sounding board for me, and truly kept me sane during a very difficult time in my life.
Besides, it’s fun being the person who “knows everything” already. I had gone through all the initial struggles of where to find this or that, what to do in various situations, and I could help connect friends with other expats or resources that I already knew about.
5. Take advantage of technology to stay in touch
The world is smaller than it’s ever been before. It is now free to “call” and text via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, LINE, or any other social media channel of choice. Take advantage of them! With time differences, plan ahead for convenient times to call or chat. Set reminders on your phone if you need to.
6. Don’t get too upset or beat yourself up if you drift apart. And, give grace to friends who’ve left and don’t stay in touch as much as you’d like
Life goes on, and it doesn’t stop for anyone. There’s something about being in the same city that creates a closeness that is just hard to replicate when you’re countries apart. In my experience, my closest friends are those where we can pick back up no matter how long we’ve been apart.
7. Remember your kids will likely experience the same challenges within their own friendships
I now work at KIS International School, and I see the revolving door of international families moving on every few years. For kids who grow up in an expat family and especially, if they attend international school, it’s nearly impossible to avoid making friends who will eventually leave. I believe these tips also apply to kids, but they need your help to facilitate. Help them understand and work through their emotions. Talk to them and support them through the grieving process. Seek out long-term friends for yourself that have kids of similar age(s). This way, when classmates inevitably leave, they still have some stability. Coordinate with leaving friends’ parents to allow the children to stay in touch via technology, or even by becoming pen pals.
Living abroad is an amazing opportunity that opens so many doors, and allows for a chance to see the world from a bigger perspective. It also creates unique challenges that our friends and family back home may not truly appreciate or understand. Now that I have my own toddler to consider, I hope to take my own advice, help her through the inevitable loss of close friends, and establish some long-term friendships along the way.
Fellow mamas, we’ve got this!
About the Author
Laurie is the mom of a spunky almost 2-year-old daughter and has made Bangkok her home for over 11 years. She loves her job as an International Admissions Manager for KIS International School where she has been working since 2018. She is very lucky to have friends living all over the world as a direct result of being an expat in Bangkok. If you plan on staying in Thailand for the foreseeable future, be sure to check out the Facebook group: The Long Run – Thailand. For more information about KIS International School, please visit www.kis.ac.th.
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