What is it that makes you feel settled? When you’ve moved before, what has helped? Many things contribute to feeling settled in a location, as you will know from past experience. Getting to know language and culture, having a base to call home, and knowing your way around all play a part. I talked in the last post about how people struggle with friendships and with getting to know their home country again. I want to provide a few pointers in the right direction in these areas to help you settle after re-entry. This post looks at building friendships during re-entry. Knowing how to talk about your times overseas will be covered in another post.
Friends will probably be your greatest joy in going back but quite possibly also your greatest heartache or struggle. If you return to a town you have lived in before, there is a different dynamic compared with if you start again somewhere new. So let’s start with old friends and work our way towards new friends.
Old friends are a mixed bag. Some of your old friends will be just who you need during re-entry. They have possibly kept up with your news, maybe even been to visit, and understand you – because they just do, and always will. Others may have kept up with you but are entrenched in their life at home without you. They no longer have space to fit you in. Still others just don’t get you anymore and you clash. And anywhere in between each of those possibilities!
It can be very painful to go home and realise that the people you thought you were close to aren’t friends anymore. It’s nobody’s fault; just a consequence of life moving on for you all. And yet other people who were on the fringes of your acquaintance before can turn out to be the very people that you now get on with. People who didn’t contact you at all when you were gone can change to become best friends.
What about making new friends? Whether in a familiar place or somewhere new, you will have a need to make friends. Just as when you relocate within your own country, the onus is on you. You have to take the initiative because on the whole people won’t come to you. If you are the newbie, then you are a novelty for a little while. People may even invite you over for a couple of meals. Then life goes back to normal and you’re part of the furniture – people don’t see the need to make the effort because you’re not new anymore… If you have a church community or some equivalent, it can be easier – but even in that sort of a community it can be difficult to break in. People have their own lives, their own circles of friends.
It means you are the one who has to make the effort. And when you’re in the midst of re-entry, often the last thing you have energy for is reaching out to invite someone you don’t know over for dinner. Friendships take time to build. Everyone seems to know everyone but you. You’re tired. You don’t want to go out. But re-entry can be a lonely place, and one of the things that can stop us slipping downwards is community, however small that community is. So make the effort – even if it’s only once a week. Work out who you would like to spend time with and get something in the diary with someone.
What can you do to make friendships easier?
- Hold your old friendships lightly. By all means pursue them to see what happens, but don’t expect them to be the same as they were. Check in with your expectations and see if they are realistic
- Write a list of the people in your acquaintance or people you see around that you could get to know. People you are curious about or hold some sort of attraction for you. Decide who you would like to talk to first and aim to do that in the coming week. Baby steps. Maybe not a meal. Maybe just coffee. Or a conversation at the school gate. You know as well as I do that building friendships takes time. But they won’t happen at all if you are not intentional about it. Work out what you can do.
Building friendships is not easy when you are in re-entry; they take time and effort. Sometimes it’s good to have someone on skype at a distance that you can talk to or a fellow repat you can chat with. But you also need to be present where you are and build community where you are. Who will you talk to this week?
8th August 2017