Expats come in every color and stripe, and each one has a unique story to tell, an individual set of circumstances and a reason that brought them here. It may be a job, a spouse’s job, a relationship, an opportunity, or something else, and, depending on the reason, the length of an ex-pat’s stay can vary enormously. Generally, there are two camps of ex-pats in Milan: those who came for work reasons and those who came for relationship and family reasons. And generally, the first group rotates through in a few years, while the others tend to be a more “permanent” or long-term group.
Let’s start by looking at some characteristics of most ex-pats. They tend to be adventurous, curious, open-minded and fairly flexible. How else could they successfully adapt to a culture so completely different from their own? They also often find that in spite of all their willingness and ability to adjust to and integrate into a new culture, they feel a certain kinship with other ex-pats, regardless of perhaps having different countries of origin. The ex-pat life brings those living it together, and sharing related stories and experiences is often the basis for creating deep and meaningful friendships.
Getting back to our two different groups of ex-pats, we have the work-based group that usually stays between 2 and 4 years, and we have the relationship-based group that often considers Milan their now-permanent home.
The first group is often used to moving around and living a somewhat transient life, understanding that households and social lives must be constructed and then left, every few years. The second group has usually invested in their adopted city in a different way, taking the long view of Milan and life in Italy, by learning the language and integrating into the culture in a deeper, more ingrained manner. But, what happens when meaningful connections are made between individuals from the two groups? When a truly special friendship is formed and the clock is ticking?
We all know that technology has made staying in touch with friends and family around the world easier than ever before. Thanks to Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp, we can now have live video chats and phone calls for absolutely free. But, when you’re living as an ex-pat, the close friends you make in your adopted city really become your family. You often rely on, confide in and bond with your fellow ex-pats more quickly and easily than with people you might meet back home, and when you find a truly special ex-pat friend that lightens your load and lifts you up, that friendship can be especially painful to say good-bye to, whether you’re the one leaving or the one being left. And whether you’re all grown up or no where near grown, hearing that your best friend is going to be leaving can be devastating news. So, how do you buck yourself up or reassure your little one in the face of impending loss? Remember to allow yourself or your child to feel sad. Things will be different and it’s ok to be upset about that. Losing friends is hard, and while life does and will move on, it’s important not to rush past the uncomfortable feelings that come with loss. Talk about your feelings and what you will miss about your friend. Discuss ways to stay in touch, and if possible, start planning a visit, even before the departing friend moves away. And, remember that the richness of living life as an ex-pat means extraordinary people will come into your life, and those friendships can last a lifetime, no matter where you both end up living.
Article by Karen Rigatti
Certified Professional Counselor