Long distance friendships are hard. In the last year, whether we live far away or not, we’ve all had to find new and creative ways to maintain relationships while being physically distant from each other. For those of us who live a plane ride away from close friends and family, this is nothing new. Here are some of the ideas and truths I’ve learned over years of maintaining friendships while living abroad.
Choose What Apps Work for You
What a blessing it is to live in an age with such great technology available to us! While Facebook and Instagram are great for getting significant life updates from those you know and love, other apps can be used for more intentional, deeper conversations.
Love seeing the faces of your nieces and nephews? Jump on MarcoPolo and record videos to send back and forth. (The kiddos in your life may request watching your face over and over again.) Process verbally? Download Voxer, and send voice messages with your best friend across the world. Want to have dozens of pictures a week available for you children’s grandparents? Consider getting TinyBeans to distribute photos to a select few family members who want to watch your child grow.
Digital connection can be a place for meaningful conversation. However, sometimes we need something a little more tangible to maintain friendships while living abroad. Consider ordering a book for a friend oceans away with Book Depository (they have free worldwide shipping!) or sending a card with a photo of you on it through Postable. Remember birthdays and anniversaries and graduations, making sure to plan well enough ahead for shipping. Send “just because” cards and packages — one time I sent a friend a “Congratulations on your new couch!” card, telling her that I wished I could join her on it for a cup of coffee.
Do you have, or are you, a grandparent far away from grandkids? The Long Distance Grandparent sends monthly emails with creative ideas for grandparents to connect with their grandchildren.
Know Your Capacity and Know Your People
We have limited capacities for how many people we can stay in touch with, and everyone’s capacity varies. Between learning a new language, making new friends in your host culture and the demands of daily life, we only have so much energy to devote to maintaining friendships while living abroad. This is true no matter how life-giving those friendships may be.
Give yourself a limit for time spent on your phone, if that’s helpful for you. Plan to connect with one or two friends each day, if that is what you need. Also, know which people you want to invest the most time into. I won’t pick up an unexpected phone call from just anyone, but when my brother calls from California, I’ll drop pretty much anything.
Grieve the Loss
Long-distance friendships look different than ones in close proximity. We can’t run over for a quick lunch date or even get creative with “socially distant” hangouts, like a coffee date from the comfort of our cars. I miss weekly dinners with my parents, and it makes me sad that they have to watch my daughter grow up while on video calls. As much as technology allows us to connect, it is still not the same.
Take time to grieve this in your own heart and also talk about it with the relationships where you feel it the most. Write a text or email that says, “I miss you.” Send the recipe you made for dinner, telling your friend that you wish they could join you. Give thanks for the good, and grieve the hard.
Remember That It’s Normal
Cross-cultural Christians are not the only demographic with the challenge of long-distance friendship. My friend’s job moved her to the other side of the country from her parents and friends, and she struggles to keep her family connected. In many countries, families will send one or two members abroad to work and send money back to them.
When my husband and I lived in the Philippines, a common question for getting to know someone was, “Oh, who in your family works abroad?” The struggle of long-distance friendships and family is a common one in the community where we lived. This allowed us to connect with people, since it’s something we were experiencing too.
So, whether you’re preparing to move abroad or you’ve been living long distance for a while, I hope you continue to stay connected in whatever ways you can as you celebrate the possibilities and grieve the losses. What other helpful ideas have you found for maintaining friendships while living abroad?
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