When I moved abroad for the first time, I was 6 years old. Since then, I’ve lived in 5 countries and 3 U.S. states. Moving around comes more naturally to me than staying put. I crave exploring so much so that most months, my boyfriend is convinced that the only time that I’m happy is when I’m on an airplane heading somewhere new.
As a result of moving around so frequently, I have friends in different cities and countries around the world, some whom I see frequently and others that I haven’t seen in years, but still keep in touch with. Sometimes, it’s been years since I last met someone, but when we do meet, it’s as if we picked up exactly where we left off. Being continuously on the move means that you need to be good at making friends, and even better at keeping in touch.
When I was 6 years old, keeping in touch meant writing letters and maybe on Christmas and birthdays speaking to my grandparents on the phone. When I first learned about Skype, my dad didn’t believe it was an actual thing or that it would become a part of every day life for expats and travellers alike. As technology has improved, travelling isn’t the only thing that has become significantly easier, but so has keeping in touch with loved ones around the world.
A few months ago, I participated in a mentorship program. During the program, we met every other month for a speaking event to learn about the importance of various work-related or life skills. One of these events has stuck with me more than the others. The event topic was networking.
Networking is one of those things that you know you should do, but most likely it’s also something that you don’t do as well as you want to. The woman who spoke is now a well-known caterer in the UK, but when she started, she didn’t have any money and barely knew how to cook. Yet, through the power of motivation and networking, she’s built a catering empire.
During the conversation, she spoke about how she has a spreadsheet that tracks everyone she knows, their birthday, little known facts, and the last time they spoke. She’s essentially created her own CRM (Customer Relationship Management) System without purchasing pricey software. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Her story was incredibly motivational and empowering, not just from a career perspective, but also was very touching from a personal perspective.
When you think about who you interact with on a daily basis, the list is most likely quite small – immediate family, close coworkers, spouse, and maybe a friend or two. But, how often do you speak to the rest of the people who have impacted your life – cousins, former coworkers, classmates, or neighbours? Most likely not as frequently as you should or may want to.
To me, networking and being an expat go hand in hand. When you’re an expat, your experiences change you. The people that you surround yourself while abroad will see your transformation and walk through this very unique experience with you. It’s an experience that no one from back home will be able to relate to as the ups and downs of being an expat are unique to the countries you live in and the things you experience while you’re there, regardless of whether you’ve moved to work or moved to be with a spouse.
When you start your new life abroad, the first priority after getting settled in a home, finding the nearest grocery store, and learning a few local phrases is to find friends and build a network. Often in that journey, you forget to keep in touch with people from back home, or from a different country where you’ve lived, or from a different part of your life like college. Now I’m not recommending that you create your own spreadsheet to keep track of your friendships, but I do recommend setting a reminder to get in touch with a few more people outside of your immediate circle once a month or every other month. You never know when you’ll be travelling back, or when you may bump into a person again.
While I don’t write letters anymore, I do still send the occasional postcard, email, and frequently send Facebook messages, or comment on loved ones’ Instagrams and Snapchats to stay in touch. I also keep in touch using Facetime and Whatsapp as much as I can. Even a 5 minute phone call to say hello can make a difference for your relationships. By using this approach of setting a reminder for myself on the first of the month has now instinctively become synonymous with keeping in touch. The first of the month is my reminder to say hi to someone that I may not have spoken with in a while and see how they’re doing.
How do you stay in touch with your friends and family when you travel?