One of the hardest things about expat life is when your friends inevitably leave. For some expats, this happens like clockwork every single year (usually in June), causing heartache, disappointment, and a sense of continually having to begin again with a fresh set of expat friends.

An article on The Culture Blend (that was mentioned to us by one of our expat listeners) details this phenomenon perfectly, describing the three types of expats: Stayers, Goers, and Newbies?

Which one are you?

Or is there, as Tiffany believes, a fourth category: Lifers? Or are those people no longer expats?

Join us for this thought-provoking episode!

You can listen right here, or find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or elsewhere.

 

Related Episodes:

Episode 40: Friends

Bittersweet Moment #146: Mailbag: Expat Friendships

 

Full Episode Transcript:

Katy

Hello. This is the bittersweet life. I’m Katy Sewall.

Tiffany

I’m Tiffany Parks.

Katy

Tiffany is in Rome. Katy is in Seattle. I am a goer. Tiffany is a stayer. I once was a newbie, and we’re going to explain to you what that means. This is from an article that was sent to us by one of our listeners, Sara. Sara, you sent this quite a long time ago. Thank you. This is letting you know that it was always on our radar. We just hadn’t gotten to it yet. This is an article about the kind of transitions that expats go through all year long, every year, but also especially during the month of June. And so we figured we’d tackle it right now. Sara sent us an article that has the title the transition that never ends, the ongoing cycle of expat stayers, goers, and newbies. We’ll post the link in the show notes. It’s from a website called The Culture Blend. There’s no author listed, so thank you, whoever wrote this.

I just want to read you a little bit of this article just to kind of lay out our premise. Whoever wrote this wrote: “I hate June. There’s a reason for that. Where I live, people come and go a lot. That’s the part that they don’t put in the brochure. When you move abroad, quote adventure of a lifetime, explore exotic lands, learn new languages, say goodbye to 20% of your friends every summer and random others throughout the rest of the year. Please sign here. It’s a big, painful part of the expat experience, though transition that is not the expected ones, like culture shock or bumbling language mistakes. We saw those coming a mile away. We read books and blogs about those and then jumping ahead, she he says. But here’s the kicker. As long as you live abroad, transition never stops. Ever. The big ones on either end are significant, to be sure, but it’s the little ones in the middle that will get you the incessant ones, the ongoing ones, the cynical shifts, the annual flip flops that never stop, that you never saw coming. We are stayers, goers and newbies figuring out life together. The stayers don’t stay forever.” That’s me, I guess I’m all of these. “The stayers don’t stay forever, the goers, but don’t go immediately. The newbies need some time to adjust. So that is basically what this article is getting at, is the annual expat exodus, as they put it, the people who come in, the people who flow out, and that this is just an ongoing thing, year after year, month after month. But maybe particularly when a school year ends in an expats planning on going, that’s the time to go. So I really wanted to think about this, and they say that they have all these kind of silly graphs in here that are illustrating this point that it can be such a cycle. It’s parties welcoming a person, saying goodbye to a person when they announce on Facebook that they’re leaving, when they promise to come visit later, friends leaving, new people coming, adjusting decisions, announcements, farewells. They have all these things listed in here about the ongoing cycle that is never ending. And we’ve touched on this a little bit before in the past because I mentioned that as a newbie when I first got to Rome and then as a person who was obviously going to leave. Some of the longtime expats I had met really didn’t have that much interest toward the end of my time in spending time with me anymore because what was the .1 of them said, which I thought at the time was very rude. The longer I have explored this as a topic, I understand more and more why, why they didn’t want to do this. But Tiffany, do you have an initial reaction? And then I’ll read part of Sara’s email talking about why this is an article that she revisits year after year as an expat.

Tiffany

My initial reaction is it sounds like she’s more of a corporate expat. If I had to just guess. I mean, I’m saying she, it sounds like a woman for some reason, but that might not be true. So I’ll just say she, and forgive me if it’s not a she. You know, with the farewell parties and the, you know, and the constant exodus, the high turnover, it sounds like somebody who is in the corporate world, you know, a multinational corporation where lots of people are there from around the world and they come and they go. And if you did work there and you worked there long term, I can see how that would be extremely difficult, especially, you know, these are your colleagues. These are people who you’re spending a lot of time with, and probably they become your social circle as well because you’re an expat. So you have a handicap when it comes to meeting people. So you’re going to automatically begin to socialize with those same people, and you’re working with them, you’re socializing with them. And that would be very hard. And I don’t have that experience because, a, I’m not, and I never have been a corporate expat. And secondly, because of the situation that I’m in now as a married wife of a local, mother of a local, and now a citizen myself, I feel like so many of my friends are in the same position, and none of us seem to be going anywhere. I mean, especially if you’re, I don’t know. I just feel like a lot of us are, not all of us. I have friends who are single moms, too, and in different situations and lots of friends who aren’t in relationships and aren’t mothers, but most of the ones who are, they’re with someone who has a job that, being Italian, they don’t want to leave because that’s a typical Italian thing which we’ve talked about. And maybe there’s a good reason for that. Maybe it’s a great job. Expats famously don’t have great jobs, usually, unless they’re corporate expats. And so they’re often relying on their partner to be the main income earner. And so I was just talking to a newish friend of mine last night. She was talking about when she had kids, she was like, oh, I wish I could live in the countryside, and I wish I could have space and a big yard and this and that and this and that. But, you know, my husband’s job, it ties us to Rome. And that’s just the case for so many people that I know. And I feel like none of us are really going anywhere.

Katy

And it’s interesting because it’s actually kind of changed in time. Like, I feel like you knew more of these people when you were younger and you were kind of in the churn of. Yes, because there is that energy, too. That’s like a whole bunch of young people moving, like, whether or not it’s for college, you know, for a college, a semester abroad, or it’s a bunch of young people living their year abroad or something. But it seems like when you’re in your twenties, this kind of churn could also be equally more normal. Certainly I think a lot of young.

Tiffany

People come to Europe, whatever the city that they fall in love with is. And it might not be Europe, it might be South America, who knows? Could be anywhere. But in my experience, I’ve met a lot of people who at 22, at 24, at 27, whatever year it is, they’re like, oh, yes, I love Rome. I went there on vacation or I studied there. I want to go and live there. And a lot of people go, and especially British people who at that time, before Brexit, could easily go and live in Italy if they wanted to and work. And they have their experience. They have their year abroad or two years abroad, but their sort of footloose and fancy free at that time. They’re not married. They don’t have kids. They don’t have a steady job. And so it kind of eventually, you know, the typical thing that happens is that people get kind of bored of that, or they’re like, okay, I want to, like, settle down. I have so many friends who are like, I’m going to go back to Britain and settle down and get a real job or go back to the states and get a real job that has benefits and not do any of this, you know, crazy expat life anymore.

Katy

Yeah.

Tiffany

And so I had it. It was a lot. I had a lot. I feel like I lost a lot of people in my life those first few years, people that I adored and that I sadly don’t keep in touch with as much as I would like to. And I miss. And I think about those times. I think about those early Rome years and how many great, fun people I knew and hung out with on a regular basis and how sad I am that they’re not here anymore. But I don’t, you know, what I don’t agree with in this article is that, you know, the stayers never stay or the stayers don’t stay forever. I feel like they do not, I wouldn’t say it’s a majority, but there’s a certain, you know, there’s a certain subset of expats who actually stay forever. And I think having, getting married and having kids is kind of what seals the deal. And it doesn’t mean that they will definitely stay forever, but it’s a much bigger likelihood that they will.

Katy

Yeah, I do think that. I agree with you what you were just saying, but I do think that when you are a goer, say, like I was, or even like your friends that you were talking about that do their one to two years abroad, and then they are like, I’ve got to go put down roots. My experience really was like, it was hard to. There’s a certain detachment from life that is both freeing, but it also gets to be a point when you kind of know, like, I’m not going to set down roots here that you kind of start to feel a tug inside of you that’s like, I’ve gotta go figure some stuff out now. You know, it’s funny, because I never thought I’d get tired of sort of the wandering around, exploring, trying new things type thing, but I do. I recognize very strongly. You know, I think I almost recognize it more strongly from the time when we were in San Francisco. And, like, whatever, a year or so in, I realized this cannot be where I end up living. It’s too expensive. It’s impractical. I don’t have enough connections here. I don’t feel, like, the tug of love toward this city that will make me want to work as hard as it’s going to take for me to make inroads here. And then I just started feeling like a pull of, like, all right, you know, you’ve spent a lot of time exploring this city and walking around and seeing everything there is to see and getting little jobs here and there. And then I just started feeling this pull of, like, I want to get back to doing something with people I can do stuff with. You know, like, I don’t even know what. It’s. I’m kind of. It’s just hard to sort of explain that feeling where you’re just like, I just want to get back to it. And that was when I started talking about moving back to Seattle, because I was just thinking, like, where do I have connections? Where do I have deeper friendships? Where do I have business ties? And I want to get going again. And it felt like if I didn’t come back here so I can get that two year kick about how it can start to feel like, this is great, but surely there must be something more than this.

Tiffany

Yeah, I get that. I get that. That makes total sense. That’s the same reason why I feel like sometimes, like, I could never leave Rome. Not because I have. I do love Rome. That’s established. But it’s not just because I love Rome and I love the city. Part of it is like, oh, my gosh, it was so much work to establish myself here. Like, now I have to go do it somewhere else. I can figure some other place out, make new friends, make new connections. No way.

Katy

I can handle that.

Tiffany

I can’t handle. I can’t handle the idea of doing that again. I mean, I think I would do it, but it would have to be, you know, it’d have to be the right circumstance. But it feels daunting.

Katy

Yeah, well, and I think that it’s almost like once you. For me, anyway, if I do this long enough where I feel, like, rooted and I’m making some kind of progress, then it’s equally possible that, you know, I’ll start to be like, you know what? I want to have that footloose and fancy free time again, you know, and maybe I’ll take off and start anew. It just felt like, you know, after about ten years of feeling like I was constantly starting anew, it becomes less novel, you know, it becomes more irritating or like that you’re kind of wasting time somehow, you know, I can totally see that. Even though you totally see that. Yeah. So let me read a little more. Let me first read a little bit of what Sara said when she sent this article. She sent it after we were talking about, we did an episode on friendships that made her think about this article. And she said it was an article that she read during her first year living in Morocco. I just want to read a couple paragraphs that she wrote. She wrote, a friend shared it with me as I experienced the turnover at the end of our first school year here. It groups expats into the categories newbies, stayers, and goers, and it has been a helpful framework as we navigate the constant transition that each school year brings. I come back to this article every year. There’s so much to explore with friendships abroad. And then she also says, the main reason my husband and I are stairs is because we don’t want to leave Morocco until we’ve experienced it outside of the bar of parenthood. A friend who is leaving Morocco this spring recently asked us what’s left on our Morocco bucket list. And we said, everything. That’s not entirely true. We’ve done some traveling, we’ve learned a fair amount of Arabic, and we have several moroccan friends. But so much of our days is spent in the monotony of parenting younger children. We feel like we can’t leave until we’ve really lived in this country instead of just existing here.

Tiffany

I remember that message. I remember when she sent that. It was quite a while ago now, like you said, but I remember reading that and I. Yeah, that makes sense. I think she might be a schoolteacher at an international school, which would definitely explain why she identified with this article, because I could see how an international school setting would be similar to a corporate expat setting with people coming and going, not necessarily rooted to the place, but maybe doing an experience of teaching abroad for a couple of years. And yet there are people who do that long term and stay for, quote unquote, ever. I have a friend who is a parent of kids in an international school and it’s interesting because her. I mean, her situation is totally different from mine because her husband. She and her husband are both American, and their kids were born in America, and they lived in the states until they were, I think, kindergarten, second grade was the age they were when they moved over here. They definitely have Italian friends, but it’s a totally different life than the life that I’m leading. And I was talking to her the other day, and I discovered that her kids don’t really speak Italian, and they lived here for five years. I was kind of shocked at that. But then again, I was like, well, yeah, they go to international school. It makes perfect sense. All their friends are international. English is their. Is their language in common. But what made me think about them, actually, was we were talking and she said, yeah, I think we’ll go back. She’s like, we’ve decided to stay for two more years, and then we’re going to go back. Because then her son will be able to start high school in the states, and she wants him to have an American high school experience, and her daughter will be in 11th grade. And I said, how does she feel about that? Because, you know how close you get to your friends when you’re in high school, middle school and high school, and, you know, to have to leave them all at 11th grade, I mean, it just sounds traumatic to me. And also to leave a place like Rome. I mean, Rome is a pretty amazing place to live, and they live in an incredibly amazing spot in the city. And so I just thought, what does.

Katy

She feel about this?

Tiffany

And she kind of just said, my friend just sort of said, oh, well, everyone always leaves around 11th grade. Everyone always leaves.

Katy

The way that she said it was.

Tiffany

Almost like, why would she have a problem with it? Everyone leaves it around that age.

Katy

Don’t be draft, Tiffany. Yeah, yeah.

Tiffany

I was like, well. And then I came back to it, and I was like, well, but how does she feel? Because even if everyone leaves in 11th grade, whatever, I don’t even remember what the conclusion of that conversation was, but it definitely brought home that there are vastly different expat experiences. And mine is really. I guess not. It’s no longer an expat experience. It’s an immigrant experience. It’s a I’ve started a new life here experience, and I’m no longer just floating around and, okay, we’ll stay another year, or maybe not. Or, you know. Yeah, yeah. I mean, I guess. I guess that’s why this article doesn’t. Doesn’t ring true to me, is because I guess I’m not really an expat anymore.

Katy

Yeah. I mean, you. You’ve been one of those people that maybe you thought about going at some point, and you’re certainly a newbie, but you are now, you’re even beyond a stayer. Like you said, you’re.

Tiffany

I’m a lifer.

Katy

You’re a lifer. Yeah. Where’s the fourth category, Tiffany?

Want to go to Rome in 2024?

Here, just popping in. If you are dreaming of coming to Italy, and specifically to coming to Rome, you’re probably thinking to yourself, I don’t really want to be in those huge groups of tourist hordes trudging through the Vatican museums, sweltering under the sun, inside the coliseum, wandering around the busy tourist streets, seduced into a tourist trap restaurant, just because you don’t know where else to go, and you’re tired and you’re hot, looking at amazing things, but not really knowing what you’re seeing. What’s the point of going all the way to Rome and not really seeing it? Not seeing the true city, not experiencing what Rome has to offer and really getting to know the city? Because if you don’t know Rome very well, or maybe you’ve been to Rome and you were a little bit overwhelmed by it, couldn’t really take it all in, or maybe you’ve never been there and you don’t really know what all the fuss is about. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by a city like Rome. But if you come in October with Katy and me, we can guarantee you that you will get to know this city on a much deeper level. And when you do that, no matter where you’re traveling, it makes that time so much more valuable and so much more worthwhile. And I don’t know about you, but when I go deep into a place, that place stays with me. So I wanted to share just a little bit with you about what we’re gonna be doing in October. We’re not gonna be going to the Vatican. We’re not gonna be going to the Colosseum or the forum. Although if you wanna go to those places, we will absolutely make that happen for you, and we can set up tours for you. Or if you don’t want to go on a tour, you want to go by yourself, we can help you get the tickets. We are happy to do that, but we won’t be going there together. We are going to be discovering the lesser known side of Rome. Now, the thing about Rome, what makes Rome so unique as a city, is that some of the churches in this city, some of the small museums and piazzas if they were in any other city in the world, they would be absolutely the top attractions. But because Rome has so much, Rome has an embarrassment of riches that even the second, 3rd, 4th tier sites, even those places that hardly anybody goes to are so incredible. Anywhere else in the world, they would be your number one site. So those are the kind of places we’re going to be going. We’re going to be seeing medieval frescoes, we’re going to be seeing mosaics, we’re going to be seeing incredible works of baroque architecture, paintings by Caravaggio, by Filippino Lippi, by Raphael, churches that are incredibly beautiful, but just far enough off the tourist track that nobody goes there and will be there alone and will experience these sights in a completely different way than you experience a very, very crowded, busy city. There are some piazzas and streets and narrow alleyways in Rome that even in the height of high season, when you walk down them, you feel like you’re in a small medieval city. After living in Rome for it will be 20 years by October. I know where to go. I know where to take you. I have the greatest, amazing secret places that I have been collecting and cataloging and quite frankly, in a lot of situations, sort of keeping to myself because I don’t want them to be ruined, but I do want to share them with you. If you’re interested in coming to Rome, if that’s something that you’ve been dreaming of doing for a while, consider coming with Katy and myself this coming October 2024. Because we are going to spend six nights, five days exploring the unknown, the secret side of Rome. I’m going to be telling the city’s stories and really sharing with you what makes this city so unique and really what makes it the way that it is, why Rome is what it is. So if you’re interested, the dates are the 6th to the 12 October. You can just get in touch with us by email. If you’d like more information, email us at bittersweetlifepodcast@gmail.com. That’s bittersweetlifepodcast@gmail.com. We have sold out about half of the rooms, and it’s a very small trip, so we don’t have a lot of rooms available, but we do have a few left. Please get in touch if you feel like you might be interested in joining us for that magical, unforgettable week.

Back to the show.

Katy

Let me just throw out a couple more ideas before we’re out of here from this article. So they have, like, these two sections that says, everybody has something at risk. Of these three categories, everyone is at risk. So it says a stayer is at risk. When a stayer stops engaging newbies because it’s going to be too painful to say goodbye, it is a matter of time before the community will grow up behind them and they will be the ones trying to break back in, which is interesting. So it’s like if the stayer disengages with the goers and the newbies, I guess, is saying, well, you might find yourself left out. They say the goers are at risk because the mental and emotional shifts begin long before the physical one. So basically, once you make an announcement that you’re about to leave, they say the stayers and the newbies will start to figure out what life looks like without you and adjust accordingly. And that sometimes that means, means that the goer starts to check out even early. Like, I’m already on my way out. And it’s kind of like that woman telling me, well, you know, it’s a little too late for us to get to know each other now. It’s just sort of like, well, you know, you’re about to be gone, so who cares? And then the newbies, they say the newbie is at risk because the newbies lend a fresh set of eyes and fabulous new ideas to stagnant or stressed environments, often before they can be heard. And so they do this example of like, hey, guys, you know, hey, guys, what about doing this? And everyone’s like, I’m Bob, by the way. And in short, the newbies may see what’s wrong before anyone is ready to listen. And so for a newbie, patience is the key to sticking it out and staying in the group, I guess. So. I don’t know, kind of three interesting perspectives. It does kind of give credibility to your thought that this is maybe about a corporate expat environment.

Tiffany

I can’t even remember the last time I met a newbie expat in Rome. It’s a rare breed in my world.

Katy

Isn’t that interesting? I mean, yeah, we’re gonna have to completely redo the conceit of this show. Thanks, Sara. Yeah, just joking.

Tiffany

Yeah, thanks for that.

Katy

Well, we’ll put this out there for the people. For those of you who are more in this situation, let’s end with a little bit of what this article says. So those are your risks. That’s where you might find yourself socially, depending on what category you consider yourself in. And I’m, of course, if you can’t tell Tiffany and those of you listening, I’m basically kind of skipping around and paraphrasing what this person is writing a lot, but they also have another section that just says everyone has something unique to give. So, stayers, the suggestion is that what you have to give. And Tiffany, I can put you in this category in case you meet any goers or newbies in the outskirts of Rome. Stayers give stability to the whole situation, to this whole churn. They suggest in this article that if you are a stayer, rather than disengaging with the whole emotional churn, that is, people coming and going, maybe consider watching a goers children while they’re packing up or showing the newbies where the cucumbers are, as they say in this. So that is the stayers. Goers, they say, give understanding. So for. I don’t know what they mean by that. Let’s look a little deeper. For goers, going is the most consuming thing in their lives. For stayers, the going of the goers may be a big deal, but it’s not generally all consuming. So goers who have expectations that stayers will drop everything to be consumed by their six month departure are failing to see the broader picture. There are always going to be goers. So you need to provide the understanding that this is unique to you, but it’s not unique to the people who are staying behind. And so, yes, have a quality farewell with the people that you love that are staying. But don’t be too precious about it, I guess is my paraphrase of what this person is saying. And then the newbies, the newbies, what do you bring? According to this article, you bring humility. And, boy, do I know that. I don’t even have to read that paragraph to know that. I don’t know if you learned anything about humility from watching me struggle, Tiffany, when I moved to Rome, but I.

Tiffany

Went through it, too, Katy. I was a newbie once, too. I remember it too well.

Katy

So, yes, it can be very frustrating to be brand new in a brand new city, in a brand new place, whether you’re abroad or not. And I guess you have to be patient with the new, humble place that you are standing in because, yeah, you are the person who doesn’t know anything and you’re just starting to figure it out. And if you can connect yourself to some of those stairs and approach them and ask them where the cucumbers are, that is probably not a terrible thing. Luckily I had you, Tiffany.

Tiffany

Yeah. Yes, and I had you because the, you know, I always say the absolute best thing to happen to an expatriate is for a friend from home to move to their city. It’s like, it’s like winning the expat jackpot to have one of your old hometown friends come and move to your city. But sadly, you left.

Katy

Yeah. I guess that’s my final question then. And thank you again, Sara, for sending this article. It will be in the show notes. If you want to actually read it instead of hear me just make up what it’s about. Was it the jackpot that was sort of like, you win the $400, roll in the dice at the craps table, and then you decide, well, I’ll just put it back in and play another couple rounds. And then all of a sudden, that $400 is now gone. And it makes everything feel a little bit worse because you were up and now you’re down.

Tiffany

Well, Katy, don’t make yourself too precious.

Katy

No, just kidding. I’m already ignoring the advice from this article. No, as a goer, I became too all encompassing.

Tiffany

Yes, you were my reason for living for that year, Katy. No, it was worth it. And I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I’m the kind of person, though, like, I will accept inevitable heartbreak in order to have a great experience. I will. I’m happy to do it. And I’ve been like that in love situations, friend situations. And, you know, I remember, not to go too off topic, but one of my close friends, I wouldn’t say closest, but a close friend of mine, we are only friends, and we’ve been friends forever. We only met each other and encountered each other because she was in my city. She’s from France. She was in my city as like a foreign exchange student for like a summer or a month. And we knew someone in common and we became friends. And I never thought for a second, I’m not going to get attached to this person because they’re just going to leave. I think that if there’s a true connection, the distance does not matter. You will be friends with that person no matter what.

Katy

And even if it weren’t, that month might have been worth it. That wonderful month of time together, for sure. Yeah, I like that. Well, you can take a step back in time with us if you want to. Come with us to Rome in October, October 6 to the 12th. We’re taking a group, a very small group of people, to Rome on a week long trip. But we’ll take you on walking tours every morning of secret Rome. And if you’re a huge fan of the show, some of that secret Rome might be showing you where my apartment was when I did live there ever so briefly at that period ten years ago, right up the street from where Tiffany also lived. And we can show you that apartment as well. But we’ll also be showing you, I almost said the major sites of Rome, but I’m not the major sites of Rome, the minor, but just as cool, just as important. I think of some of the places that we visit on the tour and that we’re planning on going this year as even more important than some of the major sites. Quite honestly.

Tiffany

Some of them, I think some of.

Katy

Them are, I agree, but they are the often overlooked, often undiscovered places, places that I think are far more fun to visit than the Colosseum. But that’s just my own personal opinion.

Tiffany

But you can go to the Coliseum too, though. Like, it’s not like you won’t have time. You will absolutely be able to go to the top sites as well. And we will pepper a couple of top sites in like I’ll take you to Piazza Navona and, you know, we’ll set you up with tickets to other sites and even tour guides if you want, for your free time. So it’s not just secret room, it’s both. It’s secret roam with us and then free time. If you want to do top sites, you can do that too.

Katy

I mean, if you want to get to know intimately one of the ancient, most important cities in Europe, this is a great way to go from nothing to knowing so much in one single week. I really can’t express how much you will discover if you come with us in October. Just send us an email. Bittersweetlifepodcastmail.com bittersweetlifepodcastmail.com. if you want to learn some more information, possibly join us in October. And until next time, this is the bittersweet life. I’m Katy Sewall.

Tiffany

I’m Tiffany Parks.

Katy

Join us again. Bye.