Saturday, 2 February 2013

The downside of living abroad; saying too many goodbyes. #expatblog #travelblogger

 Blog 33/365

Being sung to at my Goodbye BBQ on Whidbey
My first experience of the temporary nature of living life abroad was when I lived on Whidbey Island in Washington State in the US a place that stole itself into my soul in a way I never thought possible. I was only there for three months but had been so readily accepted into the community that leaving felt incredibly unnatural. Obviously I bawled my eyes out. I left without any idea of when I would return but I assumed it would be within a year or too. 4 years on and I still haven't been back. Like so many "I promise to visit you's", life (and lack of spare cash) got in the way. I still dream about Whidbey and wake up wanting to take a ferry boat across the calm Puget sound and stop in on all my friends.

Goodbye Korea with cards, gifts and drunken tears.
I had been in Korea for just under a month when I was invited to attend a leaving do (what Brits like me call a goodbye party). Everyone I knew was going and it promised to be a good night out. But, at the end of the night I stood awkwardly to the side as tearful goodbyes were given and reciprocated, feeling like an intruder until the girl leaving grabbed me in a soggy bear hug and claimed she knew we would have been great friends had she had been staying longer. I promised I'd stay in touch and we'd see each other somewhere in the world. Suffice to say this hasn't happened yet but it was nice of her to include me and she was probably spot on. After that there seemed to be a leaving do every other week until finally it was time for my own heartbreaking departure 11 months on. And it wasn't just the foreigners leaving; the Koreans I made friends with also had the tendency to go abroad, most commonly to Australia but also to the UK, US or New Zealand. However, it was far worse saying goodbye to Korean friends with no intention of leaving as I genuinely knew this was probably the last time I'd see them. The same goes for the country itself. I like to think I'll make it back there one day, but who knows when?

Festival in Sopelana and my last night with Polish bestie, Zuzia
Inevitably when you live abroad communities, of foreigners living abroad and natives who are home but missing life on the road, are formed and your closest friends become your substitute family. Most people have a temporary job contract or are studying for a specific period of time. When the family gets broken up, it's always going to be painful. Of course these are the friends who you know will be friends for life but there are also those that you know were just your best friend in that moment and it would never be the same again if you saw each other somewhere else anyway. Those goodbyes can be even worse actually because you know how lucky you'd been for that brief moment and then it's gone. I appreciate both kinds of friends, of course but I never go to a place thinking 'Ok I need a friend just for the 6 months I'm going to be here' I have known people who seem to actually do this and it can be hurtful.

Amelie reads notes we've written on a Basque bag for her
Anyway goodbye's are on my mind as last night I said a fond farewell to Amelie, who is returning to Berlin after a year studying here in Bilbao. Annoyingly we only became friends in October despite having both arrived here within a month of each other, early last year and moving in similar circles. It's so bittersweet when you find someone you really click with, only to find out they are buggering off within a few months, or even days as actually happened in the summer. Only it was me high tailing it that time!

As much as I hate saying goodbye and often bemoan that it's the worst part of life abroad, I feel so incredibly lucky that I have felt like this on so many occasions, as it really just goes to show the amazing and incredible friends I have made along the way. The harder the goodbye, the more special the person was in your life and blimey I've said some tough goodbyes in my time!

The other upside is that of course it means I have my pick of worldwide destinations for a cheap holiday whenever I want one!