I once knew two girls. Their lives were actually pretty similar – their husbands worked for the same company, they got pregnant around the same time, and they both moved to a new city where they didn’t know anyone. One of the girls jumped in to her new life with both feet forward. She and her husband joined a church, started teaching the youth there, hosted dinners at their home, went out to local restaurants, and made lots of friends. The other girl drew into herself. She stayed home with her little boy. They did attend a church, but only sporadically and didn’t really plug in. Her husband traveled a lot and so she found it difficult to have people over. If I asked you who did it right, you would probably say the first girl. But I haven’t told you the most difficult part – this move wasn’t just to a new city, it was to a new country. And for both of these girls, it was only for 2 years.
That changes a lot, doesn’t it? A new city in America is difficult enough when you don’t have any friends and are starting from scratch. But a new city in a foreign country can be overwhelming. The food is different, the signs aren’t in English, people may stare at you, and you don’t even know where to go to buy groceries. If you knew you were only going to be there for 2 years, wouldn’t it be tempting to withdraw from society in general? Just make it through these 2 years as quickly as possible, and leave as quietly as you came, going back to “real” life in the States.
When I talked to the first girl about it, she said that she couldn’t imagine wasting these two years. God had her and her husband in this place for a reason and she wanted to make the most of it. Even if she spent all this time building relationships with people she would have to say goodbye to in the near future, she was willing to do it.
The second girl told me that it was difficult enough to make friends. Why should she spend her time getting to know people and letting them get to know her when she would just have to leave? Wasn’t it better to save her heart and only get emotionally attached in a more permanent place?
I’m going to try to write this in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. So here goes. People who have never lived in another country don’t truly understand what it’s like to live in another country. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? And yet, all those who have lived in another country, another culture, are probably bobbing their heads along with me.
It’s not your fault. We Americans know a lot about being American. How would we know anything else?
But for those who have lived in another culture, in a lifestyle where people are constantly coming and going, it is our constant struggle (or at least mine) to decide to open our hearts or not. To be like the first girl or the second.
My life is very strange. When I make friends here, it is instantly a deeper friendship than with people in the States. (This is not to say, of course, that I don’t have deep friendships with people who live in the States.) Because neither of us live in the States, but we’re from there, we have so much in common. We both know what it’s like to adjust to a foreign culture. To eat local food. To be stared at. We both are studying a foreign language. We ride in taxis and public buses instead of cars. And the list continues. And because of these similarities, we need each other. We need someone to talk to in our native tongue. We need someone who knows what a hamburger is supposed to taste like. We need someone to talk to when we have cultural frustrations and nothing seems to go right.
But then this person moves. And you feel sad. A part of you thinks – why did I even become friends with that person? Now they’re gone and I have to start all over. Maybe I just won’t make any more friends and then I won’t have to hurt the next time someone moves.
And so each time a new relationship comes into our lives, the decision has to be made. To be like the first or second girl. To jump in with both feet, or to stay back. It’s a tough call.
But even if it’s for 2 months or 2 years, I usually decide to jump back in. You never know where life is going to take you next. You never know when that relationship will pop back up again. And so you make a friend. Because that person may really need a friend. And to be honest, so do you.