So your loved one moved abroad. You’re happy for them, but you’d like to see them soon because you miss the crap out of them. What should you do?
1.) Google the Price of a Round-Trip Ticket from There to Here
Go on, Google it. Before you make another comment like PLEASE COME VISIT! Before you message them asking if they’re going to visit this summer/winter/Christmas/for your wedding; Google it. Now, take a long look at that price tag and ask yourself, Would you be willing to pay the same amount to see them?
2.) Size Up Your Competition
Get a map. Find your traveler/expat’s country on the map. Now, open up a new tab and go to a discount flight website and look up how much it would be for your expat to take a trip from their resident country to another country nearby. Roundtrip to Thailand for $200? The Philippines for $150? France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and the list goes on. Now, open up a new tab, open Instagram or Facebook or Flickr or whatever and look back on some of the places your expat has traveled to. That’s your competition. You are competing with white sandy beaches, eerie forgotten temples and world-class street food. Your expat won’t tell you this, but it’s true.
Okay, now that you know where you’re at, take a deep breath and follow these steps.
3.) Keep a Dialogue With Your Expat While They’re Away
The number one key to getting your expat to visit home is in sustaining the relationship you already have with them, and that takes effort.
I know, I know, we all love those friends who we can go months, years even without seeing and we see them again and it’s like no time has passed. I also have those friendships and I love it. But that’s easier done when the two people are living in the same country, having similar experiences, and living somewhat stagnant lives and I’m sorry but chances are, that’s not the story with your loved one abroad.
Living abroad will change you, travel will change you, and if it doesn’t; you’re doing it wrong. So chances are the person you saw off at the airport last autumn or two autumns ago isn’t the same person that’s coming home to visit for Christmas. They might look the same, but inside a whirlwind of change has happened and here’s the secret; probably so much has gone on that they won’t know how to begin to explain it to you. Probably they’re still figuring it out, too. And if you treat them like they’re still the same old Ann/Bob/Sophia that left before, they might just play along and act like you’re right because after all, they only have 10 days home and one night out with you and that’s not enough to explain things.
Sounds sad, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be. Here are some ways to keep tabs on your expat while they’re living abroad.
Come on, we live in 2016 now, right? I know video chatting can be awkward and there’s not always a perfect connection, but your traveler will be so, so thankful that you made the effort.
Interact with them, don’t just watch them on Social Media
Travellers/Expats are nearly always posting stories, sharing photos, and giving anecdotes about their lives like bait set to catch a fish; but let’s be honest, most of the time that bait doesn’t catch anything more than a few “Likes” on Facebook. How do we generate conversation and change a shallow social media interaction into a friendship-sustaining thread? You could start by commenting instead of just simply “Liking” posts. Or, if you’re more of a voyeur you could take a baby step and actually start liking. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing more disconcerting than having someone you’re friends with comment about something you posted 6 months ago online when you had no idea they read it in the first place. I’ve had a number of friends do this to me over the years and it’s always a little unsettling. People often save up comments or observations until they see me in person, or they simply don’t acknowledge that they’re watching in the first place. When they finally spill the beans and say, “Oh, I saw you were in a bad mood on July 10th of last year” or “Hey, were you dating that guy who was in all your pictures?” instead of feeling a warm connection, this kind of situation usually makes me feel uncomfortable and a little annoyed, like, “Hey! I had no idea you were actually paying attention to my life!”
Some people simple don’t “do” social media, and let’s be honest, it’s not always the best way to get the full story of what’s happening in a person’s life, so why not try email?
Snail Mail/ Packages
The university I teach at now has about 50 teachers and I can tell you from observation and my own experience that there is nothing, nothing like getting a package from home and nothing will win back the heart of a lost friend like you taking the time and effort and money to show them that they still mean something to you.
4.) Tell Them Ahead of Time That You’re Buying Their Lunch/Dinner/Coffee/Cocktails and Then Follow Through
Nothing stresses me out more than the idea of the cost of a trip home. Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea; I could visit all these places and more for a much cheaper price tag. Most of us overseas are students and English teachers and we sure as hell aren’t rich. Add to that the fact that the country we’re living in most likely has lower prices for these things than our hometown. If I go out to lunch in Seattle with a friend, it’s going to cost me between $20 and $30; in China, I can eat a the nicest meal in my little area for about $8. With this kind of price difference, visiting home is a huge financial burden for me. I find myself enormously thankful for the friends who offer to pay for my meals when I see them and I hate to say it, but I also find myself pretty reluctant to see my friends who don’t think of what it costs me now to spend time in my hometown.
5.) Make a Plan For When They Come/ Carve Out Time for Them
Have kids? Let your traveler see them, but then for heaven’s sakes get a babysitter. Still single? Then plan a night out/weekend away and remind your expat and yourself that your home region is plenty fun and beautiful, too.
It sounds so simple but it’s another key to drawing your expat home. I’ve been abroad for nearly three years now and in that time, I’ve visited home twice but I’ve had countless friends who’ve also made the journey home and usually when we get back, we have this conversation:
“So what did you do?”
Ah, sat on my parent’s couch mostly. None of my friends have money, I spent all my money getting there; it was a good reminder of why I left.
“So, are you going back next summer?”
Hell, no; a group of us is planning on getting summer jobs in Mongolia. You’re in, right?
Nobody wants to spend their vacation time back on their parents couch or running errands with their friend who hadn’t thought enough ahead of time to have a Saturday afternoon free to catch up with their long lost friend. Most likely, you’ll have the luxury of knowing months in advance when your expat will be visiting home and for how long they’ll be there. Do yourself and them a favour and make plans well in advance so that your expat has one less thing to worry about.
6.) Make Room for Another Narrative
Visiting home is stressful for any traveler. They’re dealing with reverse culture shock compounded probably with family stress. While you’re super happy to see them, the story you’re probably not ready to tell yourself is that although they’re happy to see you, too; they also really miss their friends and life back in [INSERT COUNTRY NAME HERE].
But most likely they’re not going to tell you that. Or they’re gonna try to hide it out of fear of looking like a jerk. You can help in this situation by making room for another narrative and acknowledging the fact that your friend has another life/other friends now just like you probably have new friends and new elements to your life. Learning to ask questions and acknowledging this is key to welcoming your expat back.
7.) Do Your Homework and Ignite a Conversation
What’s currently going on in Taiwan/South Korea/ Japan/ Thailand/ Wherever Your Expat Is? Is there political drama? Are there huge things in that country’s history that probably affect your traveler on a regular basis? Start anywhere. You knowing anything about their situation is better than you knowing nothing, and it’s more than likely going to be helpful in starting a conversation.
For me personally, talking to friends and family back home when they know nothing about where I’m living is often so daunting that after a while, I give up. Filling them in on the cultural background, the history, everything they need to know to begin to understand my day-to-day life is exhausting, and I’m often so afraid that I’ll bore them that I simply settle in for hearing about how their life has been and has/hasn’t changed since I left. It’s just easier. I know my friends and family are missing out on getting the whole picture from them, but I also just can’t deal with how much I would need to educate them for us to be able to have a real conversation.
8.) Consider Visiting Them
In all honestly, and in most cases, it would be cheaper for me to host a friend here in China for a week (after flights) than it would be for me to hang out with a few of my friends for a few days in Seattle. And, it goes without saying, the experience would be unforgettable for both parties.