The support women feel from girlfriends “steadies me and keeps me going,” says Susan Dougherty of Anaheim, Calif.
I can remember being in my apartment in Baku, looking at some garbage stuck in the leafless trees outside my window, and feeling very alone – husband off to work, son at school and me left behind, wondering if this was how it would always be. And then the contrast when I made contact with a group of expat women who met once a week for a “stitch ‘n bitch” sewing group and suddenly I was surrounded by camaraderie, close friends and a feeling of “belonging.”
I’ve often heard newly arrived women say they’ve had to fill out a form asking for an emergency contact, and suddenly had a gut wrenching moment when they realized they knew no one. In Dubai I started running a weekly coffee morning for an organization called ExpatWoman, which quickly grew from just half a dozen of us to a group of 40 or more, completely taking over a local coffee shop once a week. A multinational mixture of newcomers and long term expats, it always gave me a thrill to see a woman arrive, visibly nervous and shy, and by the end of the morning she’d be exchanging phone numbers and arranging to meet up with the women she’d been sitting next to.
No matter where I’ve lived as an expatriate, once I’ve found a good friend, the friendship has deepened quickly. It is as if we knew we didn’t have the luxury of time because we might only be there for a year or two. Having someone to share the frustrations of settling in and homesickness has been the best cure for culture shock.
The two quotes at the beginning of this post come from an article about people finding love after 50, but they reminded me of how important my expat girlfriends have been to me while living overseas. I think they hold true no matter what your age and are doubly true if you’re an expat. The girlfriends I have made have been one of the best things about being an expat.