day 11: It’s hard to say goodbye

The thing about expat life is, it comes with a lot of goodbyes.

The day I left Brussels I cried buckets. I was leaving a home I adored and friends I loved. But I’d also been saying goodbye pretty regularly for the last four years, as fellow expat friends did their own leaving.

Expats will joke that when a new person arrives, the questions go like this: 1) who are you and where are you from? 2) how long are you staying?

We’re aware that your company may have only brought you here for a fixed term. Usually a short one. Or we know that for many people, expat life is harder than they expected and they go home sooner than planned. And even if they love it here and have a permanent contract, the nature of having roots somewhere else, mean that you may leave at any time.

Forgive us, newly-arrived-expat, if we’re a little cynical when we first meet you, if we sometimes feel a little less than eager to form a close friendship with you quickly. It’s just so hard saying goodbye.

And maybe you’re feeling the same way – that tendency to build a wall up around your heart so that your own leaving, when it comes, will be easier.

It won’t work. You’ll start building those walls but the building work will be interrupted by new friends inviting you out for coffee and neighbours calling you over to join their dinner. And the bricks that you did manage to stack one on the other will start to be eroded by the sweet rain of welcome and hospitality that falls down on you as you settle in. And then finally the remains will be bulldozed away by the overwhelming support you receive when you go through something truly hard.

Life, I am learning day by day, is made up of good moments and bad moments. And if we try to protect ourselves from the bad, we will miss out on the good. Instead, be thankful. Be thankful for the many new friends and new experiences you gather in this new land, those ones which will make leaving so hard. Be thankful for the joy they bring. And then you’ll never look back with regret, only with gratitude.


This post is part of my 31 days to embrace expat life. I’m writing every day through October on this topic. Click on the button to see all the posts so far…

Yesterday’s post – Being family to your friends.