It is with a heavy heart that I pen this piece, as it’s on the topic of people leaving. As alluring as the expat lifestyle may seem, at the end of it all most of us are living and working like everyone else, just farther away and with fewer friends. After working to connect with new people and find common interests among new acquaintances, the effort usually pays off. If we’re lucky, we expats garner a group of solid friends, consisting of like-minded people with a decent outlook on life. People from all over the world befriend us and enrich our lives long after we’ve parted ways.
When I was in Korea ten years ago, I was one of the fortunate who established an amazing circle of eight friends. They ranged in origin from England to Australia and back home to Canada and the USA. This time around I have been blessed once again to have met an amazing group of new friends but sadly, the group is diminishing.
After a year and a half in a foreign community, especially one where most foreigners are also teachers and it’s normal to only be hired for a one-year contract, our future is always uncertain. One never knows for sure if they’ll have the chance to renew their contract at their school, or if they even want to stay. Another country may be calling by the time their twelve months wind-down. Family matters may have struck at home or educational needs bring them back to their motherland – we never know.
This article is dedicated to the amazing people I’ve met this time around and this is not to lament, but to honour their friendship and suggest ways to stay in touch. With the state of social media today, it seems that we could never really be out of touch, but what if some of your buddies don’t do social media? With this list of suggestions, perhaps you can talk them into doing at least one of these things:
1) KakaoTalk is a crazy popular phone app here in Korea but is available for use all around the world. I got a few friends back home to install Kakao on their phones back in Canada and we chat regularly for free (with no privacy infringement like Facebook). Kakao allows you to text, send pictures, voice recordings, short videos, and get free calls internationally with other Kakao users. (Both parties must have an account for this to work, as with most applications.)
These types of programs usually use up your internet data instead of charging you for a long distance call, so if you have a small data plan you may want to increase it for things like this. For an extra $10-12 a month you can usually get a whole other gig of data which is at least an hour and half of talk time (in Korea anyway). Kakao also has a computer version you can download if you want, but only works on PCs.
Viber is also a phone or computer app you can download for free and send texts, share photos or make calls with other Viber users. It works with Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and even Windows phones (I know, who has a Windows phone? Just sayin’).
Similar phone chat/messenger applications include WhatsApp for most makes of phone (see Viber compatibility), or Snapchat for sending photos or short videos to friends and family. Snapchat is a little different in that their photos and videos delete within one to ten seconds of being received, but still, some of the young’uns like this one.
2) To see your friends face-to-face, there’s the classic Skype application, ready for free download for computer or cell phone. The program allows you to “call” the person and have a live chat (provided the connection is working well) and see each other in real time. I use this with my friends and family the most and it has really helped to not feel so homesick. I’ve even installed it on my grandparent’s computer and we have Skype dates all the time. If you’ve got an iPhone, a similar application is “FaceTime,” but this is only usable between other apple phone users.
Kick It Old School
3) Lastly, I recommend old fashioned mail or e-mail. You may be wondering why I didn’t mention Facebook. For one, it seems too obvious. Aside from that, I don’t think people really stay connected there. Once people move away, friends click “like” on other friend’s pictures or write a quick “LOL” under a new photo posted, but often there is no real conversation happening. Some people write messages through the Facebook messenger app, but many don’t and to me, it can lead to a superficial way of staying in touch. As my good friend Heather once said, Facebook is like “keeping in touch without actually talking to people.”
This is why I suggest getting your friend’s regular e-mail address or even better, their physical address. It’s so nice to get a letter or a card in the mail. It’s such a personal thing to see a hand-written note or card and I, among many, miss that. Alas, we’re all busy and for those of us abroad where English is not the first language, finding a stamp and/or a post office may be difficult. In this case, I say regular e-mail.
With these tips in mind, staying in touch shouldn’t be that hard. For my closest friends who have left or are leaving soon, I’m trying not to let your absence get me down because with today’s technology, I can see your mug whenever I want. And for some of you (William), I have a feeling you’ll be back soon. Until next time Dear Readers, be well.