Friday, June 8, 2012

Mass Exodus - the Cons to Ex-Pat Life

Over the last 2 1/2 years I've written about the ups and downs about life as an ex-pat.  And let's face it, most of it (once I got thru the first few months of adjustment) has been pretty glamorous with travel every few weeks to places that most people spend their lives dreaming about.  We've met amazing people - interesting people with experiences so far beyond the scope of what we've seen an done.  But it can't be sunshine and roses all the time unfortunately...
When we moved abroad, one of the biggest concerns for me was establishing friendships.  Knowing that I was going to be here for just two years made me wonder just how much of myself I wanted to invest in other people who were also coming and going from Barcelona.  It didn't take me long though to realize that I wanted relationships here and not only did I want them, they are a necessary key to survival. 

I've met people that have become friends that, let's be honest, will just be friends while I'm here in Barcelona - they are not relationships that I think can stand the test of time and distance.  And then there are others that I believe and hope will last a lifetime, no matter where any of us live.  It's those, of course, that mean the most to me.  But like me, most of those people also live a similar life where our time here is temporary.  And depending on their contracts, if they are on a sabbatical for a specific length of time, or if they are just ready to move on - their time here is limited like our own. 

This has been something of a harder adjustment than most for me.  Because my circle of friends is so much smaller here than in the States, when a person leaves, it also leaves a huge hole in my circle.  Yes, we'll still be friends and yes, I still plan to keep in touch (and hopefully come visit all of you!!!) but on an everyday basis, those people won't be here.  I won't be able to meet up for lunch, dinner, a beach day, etc.  They'll be gone from my everyday life.  And given that my close circle is only about a half a dozen people here, when 3 or 4 of them leave in a year, that's pretty significant. 

And those people are dropping like flies this year.  Another friend of mine had this problem last year when a huge group of her friends and now I can completely relate.  This is something that is going to take time to get used to.  At home, I've had the same group of friends for years - sure people cycle out of our lives over the course of time, but for the most part, there isn't much shake up (for me at least) with those relationships.  So when I see myself mourning the loss of people that I've only known a short while, it's strange to me in a way.  I've had to learn to "fast track" my's kind of like speed dating.  Either we click or we don't.  There isn't enough time to play around and decide if I like you or not - first impressions are everything.  And while I've only known my friends here for a short period of time, relatively speaking, have had a huge impact on my life.  Some of us are going thru this experience for the first time while some have been living this life for years. 

As an adult, I understand why it is that my friends are moving.  I expect that they are going to move.  I don't even ask people any more how long they are going to be here because in the end, it doesn't matter.  And either that friendship is going to last beyond Barcelona or unfortunately it won't - only time and distance will tell.  I'm now more willing to invest myself faster and with all my heart if I feel that the relationships have I guess what you'd call potential.  That sounds kind of callous in a way, but in this speed dating world, you know pretty quickly if these people are going to make it or break it in your life. 

This experience has taught me so much in just 2 1/2 years.  I'm open to heartbreak because I know that the time I get with these people will be worth it - that while I will be sad when they leave, the time I've had with them made it worthwhile to put myself out there.  And eventually I will be the one doing the heartbreaking and leaving bodies behind in the dust as I fly back to US soil for the final time. 

However, I have to remember that I'm not the only one hurting from the loss of people leaving.  Nothing is more painful than watching your children going thru something that you know firsthand is an incredibly difficult process.  Over the last few years, Aidan has lost one or two friends who have moved away but thankfully he had not been super close with most of them.  But this year, Aidan is losing at least 3 friends (that I know of) to moves.  He knows of 2 of them but not the third yet which is going to hit him really hard because it's his best friend that moved here at the same time as us.  I don't even want to think of how he's going to handle that one.  But the reason for my need to write this entry today is because at bedtime Aidan had a bit of a breakdown because of one of the friends that he knows is leaving. 

Aidan has recently become good friends with a little boy that was only here for a year.  It wasn't til the last few months that they've become close but it was an instant bond.  The bonus is that he also lives in our neighborhood so planning a playdate is easy (and by neighborhood I mean he's still a 15 min walk away which I consider to be really really close).  And he's leaving in a matter of weeks to go back to NY.  Tonight, Aidan was crying about how much he would miss his friend and he wrote him a letter that went something like this:  "Dear Django, I hope you have fun in NY.  I will really miss you and wish you could stay for another year.  You are my best friend and I love playing spy with you and having sleepovers".  It was all I could do not to cry in front of him as he absolutely broke my heart in pieces.  And so I explained to him the benefits of living this "special" life - that he has friends that are from all over the world and how lucky he is.  And that hopefully he will stay in touch with them and someday we would visit them in their new location.  He's not completely sold on this yet as he still feels like they are leaving him.  And I get it.  I completely get it.  If it's this hard as an adult who can comprehend this entire process, what's it like for a little kid that doesn't get why this keeps happening year after year?? 

I remember a friend of mine telling me that in the kids' school, which is an international school, that many of the older kids who are local don't befriend the ex-pat kids - it's because they know they will leave eventually and don't want to put themselves out there for heartbreak.  To me, this IS heartbreaking.  They are missing out on opportunity to get to know amazing people.  While it saddens me to know that Aidan is going through a rough time, I'm glad that he didn't let someone's length of time here in Barcelona prevent him from making friends.  That he was still willing to invest himself into relationships.  But will he become jaded over time like the local kids?  I wouldn't or couldn't blame him.  But I also hope that he sees the brighter side which is what an impact those people have had in his life because he let them in. 

I know that for me, these next few months are going to be a trial of my strengths.  When I moved here, I had no one.  Then I had one friend... and then slowly slowly grew from there.  When Josh and I signed on for our additional 2 years (on top of the one we still have left), we did it knowing that these people were homeward bound - and knowing that life moves on and that while they will always have a special place in our hearts, we will also have to move on and continue to either embrace this exotic life for what it is, or let it break our hearts.  And so for the next few years, I will dread the end of the school year and the mass exodus that follows but I will have no regrets because we've met some amazingly wonderful people in our time here... and for those leaving, you know who you are and I hope you know how much we will miss each and every one of you and that you've made an impression in our lives that will not be soon forgotten.


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