How to Keep Your Friends Back Home {Without Losing Your Focus}

You've finally taken the jump and moved overseas {or cross-country/to another state/to a new city}. There are new friends to discover, new relationships to build, and you throw yourself into those.

Except after a few months {or years}, you realize the community you thought you were building is fragile and transitional. None of your friendships is more than a few years long, and even though you cherish your new friends, you miss having someone who knows your back story. And when you start thinking about moving back home, you realize no one there truly knows the person you have become.

As you know from my previous posts about community overseas {see part one and two}, I treasure the relationships I've built overseas. Although it's challenging in unique ways, I count my expat friends among some of the closest I've ever had. But last year, I realized I needed to also invest in my relationships back home. 

Why?

For many of the reasons I listed above: community here changes almost every month; it can be difficult to find accountability and transparency in relationships that are short-term and may be the source of your challenges; and most expats, whether after a few months, years, or decades, return home, even if only for a short time.

During my first few years in Cambodia, I didn't spend a lot of time on friendships back home. I've always been a bit of a "love-em-and-leave-em" type of friend. I enjoy the relationship while we're in the same stage of life, or the same city. But once I move on, or they do, I don't cling to that relationship.

Some friendships are really meant for just a season. High school and college friends can be lifetime friends, or they can become fond memories. I don't think there's anything wrong with letting go of certain relationships when it's clear there's nothing in common between the people anymore.

I think I didn't recognize the value of staying friends with someone who really knew me, the person I was before I was married, before we moved overseas - people who could track us throughout life and simply have a shared history with us.

This year during our home leave, we met with three other couples from our home church who agreed to become an advocacy and support team for us while we are overseas and during any transition periods that may come up. And it has been so refreshing to email and Skype with women who know me, who can update me on life back in Kansas City, and who help give me a broader perspective than just what's going on in my life here in Cambodia. It's also motivated me to reach out to other friends through email, Facebook, and Skype, to let them know I haven't forgotten them and still value their friendships.

In case you are working overseas or in a new place, I encourage you to keep in touch with friends and family back home. It is definitely a balance. People who spend all their free time talking with people back home won't fully invest themselves in their lives overseas and will miss out on the growth that occurs through relationships with other expats and nationals. But cutting yourself off completely from people back home isn't healthy, either.

So here are some tips on how to keep your friends back home without losing your focus.

Take initiative.

A lot of people assume you are busy with work, ministry, adjustment, etc. and may not take the initiative to contact you themselves and see how you are doing. But that doesn't mean they don't care about you or think about you anymore. Just dropping an email or setting up a Skype date, sharing your adventures and challenges, and asking what's new in their life, is helpful - even if it's once every few months.

Use social media - but not as an escape.

I admit - I love social media. TwitterInstagram, Facebook, the blog {obviously} - it makes staying connected back home so much easier. If you have a smartphone, Instagram is one of the best ways to share your life with your family and friends. It can be really hard for people to imagine what life is like in Cambodia. But posting a photo of my neighborhood, a wedding, crazy-overloaded-trucks, or tropical fruit helps them visualize my life and understand my stories better. 

One caveat, though - just like back home, it can be so easy to escape into social media. Especially if life is difficult, I want to just look at #kansascity photos and imagine being back home, where everything is "perfect" and "easy" {at least in my mind}. So you can't let it distract you from fully living where you are right now.

Be honest about the hard stuff, and don't be afraid to ask for help or prayer.

People love to put missionaries or development workers on pedestals. And when we hear or read people saying, "Oh you're amazing! What great work you do! I could never do that! You must be so special!" etc., it makes it difficult to be honest and say, "Actually, I really don't like Cambodia right now; I'm struggling to understand why God put me here; I am ashamed of all the sinful thoughts going through my head." 

Now, I really appreciate the encouragement - thank you!!! But for those overseas - find someone or a group of people back home with whom you can be honest and transparent with personal and spiritual struggles.

I can think of so many times in the first few years I could have used a group like that. When your community consists of less than a dozen people, it's really hard to share deep heart stuff with them, because you have to see them every day for work, church, and play. 

As I wrote before, you should still open up with other expats. But sometimes you need someone on the outside you can talk with, without worrying about how it will affect your relationships with the whole group.

Go see them every year.

This may not work if you only go home once every 3-4 years. But even if you do, make an effort to go grab a coffee or get dinner with people

It keeps you connected, even if you don't really email and it will make it easier to restart your relationship when you move back. When I go home every year, I sit down and make a list of people I want to reconnect with. I haven't seen some of them since the previous year's visit or even emailed them. But by intentionally meeting up with them, it keeps the friendship open.

Those are just a few ways I've found helpful to keep friendships going back home.

What have you found helpful in maintaining friendships over long distances? I'd love to hear about your experiences, too!