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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Helping a friend a thousand miles away


You have all probably noticed that I love, love, love being an expat in the Netherlands. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I love the challenges, the opportunities, and the new friendships that come with living in another country.

Yet there are some things that ultimately suck. One of them is old friends and family not being there for you when you need them. What’s even worse, however, is not being there for friends and family when they need you.

After all, you live a thousand miles apart (or more), and often are separated by time zones, oceans and cultural differences. But imagine your best friends are going through some very tough time and you don’t know how to help them?  I have thought about this and came up with some tips that may be useful.

1)   Travel - before I had children, I used to do this to be present for my friends’ weddings, and other important events in their lives. Unfortunately, this option is not really available to me at this point of pregnancy no airline would take me on board. But maybe it is an option for you? Take a small vacation and go with the whole family. Leave the children with your husband and go all by yourself! It may be a difficult choice, but it is well worth considering.

2)     Have your friends travel to see you! - This would be not only a perfect opportunity for you to see each other and spend some quality time together, but this way you can also provide the distraction your friends may crave at the moment. Also, in some cases, it may give your friends ideas for figuring out their lives again.

3)   Use technology to stay connected - even though you can’t travel, we have never had so many great ways to stay in touch with each other: Skype, Facebook and email are just the obvious, but there are more. I love sharing pictures with my family and friends. Have you ever thought of sending a video of yourself to a friend? You can tell them words of encouragement, or tell them you’ll there for them even though you’re so far away. Or just make a very silly video to make them laugh.

4)    Use the distance to your advantage. While being directly involved is great, distance also has its merits. For example, you may offer a unique perspective that could be just what your friend needs. After all, you have lived in another country, and know that other cultures deal with problems differently. Also, being further away gives you the opportunity to consider all pros and cons of an action without getting too emotionally involved.

5)    Show them you care- this may be a no-brainer, but we sometimes get so caught up with our expat lives, making new friends, trying to find new jobs, caring for children in a strange country that we forget that in our home country, there are friends who may need us. Maybe a little gift is in order? Maybe something from your new country? Maybe something you’d know she loves? Also, while you are sometimes separated by time zones, sometimes staying up late to talk to a friend is the right thing to do. Sometimes a phone call, a text message, a simple “how are you?” is all it takes. Take the time to listen.

6)  Talk about yourself- while your friends may go through troubles, they will also be interested in how you’re doing. Tell them the good things and the bad things, but be brief- this is not about you. However, it will create the feeling of being together despite the distance.

7)    Don’t feel guilty about not being there with your friends. - Sometimes we really want to travel to see our friends, but it is not possible. Sometimes we wish we could be more involved, but we can’t. Don’t beat yourself up. Remember that there are so many things you can do to help.

8)    Remember about your own emotional well-being- It is bad enough for your friends when they’re going through hard times, but it is also hard on you. So, talk to people, go out, do whatever helps you to relax. With a clear mind, you’ll be able to find a good solution for your friend. If that is not possible, it will at least allow you to be a better listener. As an expat, you also have a great network of friends and experts- chances are you know just the right person to help your friend!

9)   Make sure your friend has help and support - when you can’t be there, make sure that others can. Most probably, other friends will already have taken care of this situation, but it is always good to make sure that this is really the case. Also, even though you are far away, you still have contacts to specialists in your own country- ask them to help, or tell your friend to get in touch with them.

10) Just ask- Through time, distance and different experiences, people change. This means that you don’t always know how to help anymore. What worked for your friend 5 years ago, may not work now. The solution? Ask. Ask how you can help. Ask what you can do. Tell your friend what you can do and ask them whether it’s a good idea. Then do it.

      These are just a few tips, and there is more. By writing this, I have also realized that I could have done much more. I guess I have to remember to take my own advice and start doing more for my friends at home, especially in bad times.

What are you doing when your friends at home need you? Please share in the comments. 



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