When you live abroad, staying in regular touch with family and friends is not always easy. My parents are divorced and I have a lot of siblings, so it takes tons of phone calls, FaceTime, and Whatsapp messages to catch up with everybody.
Of course, living far away from friends and family is not totally unique to diplomats. My American side of the family lives spread out over three states in the Northwest. They even have a hard time keeping up with each other. My particular challenge, however, is that my friends and family literally live all over the world.
Obviously, some of my friends are diplomats. I don’t always keep track of where they are, but they’re fine with that. They understand. However, I also have normal friends – the kind of people that stay in one country. For them, it’s pretty logical that I come visit them once I a while. After all, I am the one who feel like moving all the time, so I should be the one making an effort to visit.
Or at least that’s what I think they think.
Family members are generally the hardest to deal with. Expectations are a lot higher. I don’t know a single diplomat who doesn’t have at least one of the following problems: they have family members who can’t/won’t travel to see them because they say they are too old, worried, or uninterested in the country; they have to use up all of their vacation time to visit friends and family at home; they argue with their spouses about which family’s turn it is for a visit; they spend so much time hopping around between friends and family that they are exhausted at the end of their vacation.
So how do we still manage to stay in touch with everybody while living abroad? Personally, I couldn’t do it without Facebook and Whatsapp. I know the risks associated with social media (both privacy-issues and time-suck issues) but I don’t think I could ever do without it again. And frankly, I don’t understand how diplomats ever managed to do it before.
For me, communication devices and social media are the great saviors of our time. Because international calls are basically free and it is easy to send funny pictures, cute videos, interesting articles, urgent questions and everything else I would normally show to or share with my friends and family, I never feel too far removed from my loved ones.
To me, distance is mostly a state of mind.
Also, overtime I noticed something else that really helps with staying close to family and friends; vacationing together. The thing is, I would never spend two-week vacations with my parents if we lived in the same country. But for the past decade, I’ve done some amazing trips with several of my family members. Also, when they come visit me it’s usually for at least a week or two. That’s almost the same amount of time together as a year worth of shorter visits (birthdays, dinners) combined!