The ones left behind

We’re rapidly approaching our leaving date and the thought of sneaking out a day or two earlier to avoid the farewells is appealing – I’m such a coward when it comes to goodbyes and I’m dreading it. I even got a bit teary yesterday when I told my favourite coffee shop lady I was leaving. It didn’t help that she cried too…

But as I’ve been brooding over our impending exit, I’ve realised that I’m not alone. A lot of my friends will be gone by the end of the year too. What’s happening, Singapore? Why are so many moving on?

Moving countries is hard work: emotional, tiring and a huge strain on you and everyone else within shouting distance. However, once you get over the initial shock, it’s an exciting prospect. A new country, new people, friends you haven’t met yet – it’s all out there waiting for you. And the opportunities that the kids will experience while immersed in another culture is the gift of a lifetime.

But what if you’re the one left behind? Constantly?

I guess when you’ve been in a place for long enough, you see a pattern forming. Some people really do come here for two or three years, and then leave on their appointed date. On the other hand, a lot of people come over for a stint in the sun on a short-term contract and find themselves still here many years later.

These long-termers do it tough as they see their support networks dwindle with alarming regularity. Although electronic media is great for staying in touch, it’s no substitute for a coffee and a chat when the chips are down. Every now and then you need someone to lean on – literally, not virtually.

The kids feel it keenly and despite dealing with your own sense of loss, you have to keep it together to sort them out. Sometimes they take it on the chin. They’ll breeze in from school and announce that “such and such is leaving on Friday…” – shrug – and wander off to play. Other times, you’re sharing the tissue box and wondering how we’ll all cope on Monday with the absence of those smiling faces in the playground.

So you start over. As it happens, when a group of your besties leave, another influx of newcomers arrives, but finding people you “click” with takes time. And no matter how hard you try, when you’re in a conversation with a newbie that niggling little question always fights its way forward – how long are they going to be here for?  This feeling certainly doesn’t stop you making friends but you go into that relationship knowing there’ll be sadness down the track when they, too, announce that they’re leaving.

The people you meet have a profound effect on your lives and we’re enriched with every meeting, long or short-term. Whether you’re staying, going or stuck in limbo-land while the powers-that-be decide your fate, know that you’ve touched our lives and we’re all the better for it.

And somewhere down the track, those people who blew out of your lives all those years ago, may just blow back in again. That’s the crazy nature of the expat life – you just never know exactly what – or who – is around the corner.

Stay strong.

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